NASA: Satellite's Rate Of Descent Has Slowed

We reported on the variables that make it hard to, even at this late date, predict exactly when and where a dead 6-ton NASA satellite will fall to Earth. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, will be the biggest NASA spacecraft to crash back to Earth, but it's now baffling scientists as its descent toward Earth slows — delaying its ultimate crash until the early part of the weekend. The space agency is now predicting the satellite will crash down to Earth late Friday or early Saturday, Eastern Time.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

By now, you've likely heard about the 13,000-pound satellite the size of a school bus that's about to fall out of orbit and plunge to earth. NASA had expected that to happen sometime today. Well, here's the latest.

BETH DICKEY: The satellite's rate of descent has slowed.

BLOCK: NASA spokeswoman, Beth Dickey.

DICKEY: And that's why the estimated reentry time is coming a bit later than was originally predicted.

BLOCK: It could happen this evening or as late as tomorrow morning. Scientists had thought it would splash down in the South Pacific, but with the changing schedule comes the chance that pieces of the satellite will fall on the United States. I'm sorry Beth Dickey was no more specific than that.

NORRIS: But don't worry. All but 10 percent of the satellite should burn up as it falls. The biggest surviving chunk will be a mere 300 pounds. No need to panic.

BLOCK: The satellite goes by the acronym UARS - that's U-A-R-S. It stands for upper atmosphere research satellite.

NORRIS: UARS was put in space to measure the ozone layer, but now scientists are measuring it and they're looking at all of the many factors that affect how and when and where it falls, including what's happening on the sun.

DICKEY: In the past few weeks, solar activity had been causing the satellite's rate of descent to speed up and our satellite trackers now are finding solar activity is not the major influencing factor. In fact, something appears to have happened to the satellite to reduce the amount of drag on it and so prolonging its descent from orbit.

NORRIS: All of this uncertainty makes the falling satellite a perfect opportunity for gamblers. For example, the Irish betting site, PaddyPower.com, is offering odds on where the satellite pieces will hit first.

KILLIAN CONVOY: Africa, nine to four. South America, 11 to four. Asia, three to one. North America, three to one. Australia, six to one. Europe, eight to one. Antarctica, 16 to one.

BLOCK: That's Cillian Convoy(ph). He's a representative for that betting site and he's offering those calculations from a safe spot. Odds that a piece of UARS will fall on Ireland, 66 to one.

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