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NASA tries to pinpoint where pieces of UARS satellite fell

September 24, 2011 | 10:04 am

Satellite

NASA officials are working to determine where pieces of a 6-ton climate satellite fell after its fiery plunge into the atmosphere early Saturday morning over the Pacific Ocean.

It's still unclear where more than 20 pieces of debris landed after the bus-sized satellite penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere, according to NASA and the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

There were no reports of injuries or damage, NASA confirmed on its Twitter feed. NASA said it is awaiting additional location information from the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center.

NASA predicted that the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, the largest to ever fall back to Earth in 32 years, would break into 26 pieces and fall over a 500-mile swath.

The satellite had been expected to reenter the atmosphere Friday but not over North America. But the satellite’s descent slowed and it was then expected to fall late Friday or early Saturday, increasing the threat of it falling into the United States.

NASA put the odds of a person getting hit by a piece of satellite debris as one in 3,200. A single person's chance of getting hit were about one in 21 trillion.

It was the first uncontrolled fall of a satellite since 1979, when both the 75-ton Skylab space station and the more than 10-ton Pegasus 2 satellite plummeted back to Earth.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: A conceptual image of UARS, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which launched  Sept. 15, 1991. Credit: NASA

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