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COLUMN: Space junk ‘probably’ won’t hit you, NASA predicts

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By KEVIN KOELLING, Managing Editor

Helmets for sale! Get yours before NASA’s six-and-a-half-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite plunges to Earth, probably in your neck of the world!

A report by Clara Moskowitz, senior writer for space.com, posted Tuesday at Yahoo News, said the former climate probe, now space junk, has been slowly losing altitude since 2005 and “will make a final uncontrolled plunge through Earth’s atmosphere” the last week of this month.

Don’t worry, the report suggests, because NASA “insists” the pieces they expect to survive re-entry “will pose little risk to civilians on the ground, although there is a chance debris could impact a populated area.”

“Earth is big, the satellite is small; the chance of it hitting a person is very, very small,” said Victoria Samson, the Washington office director of the Secure World Foundation, an organization dedicated to the peaceful use of outer space. “While the idea of something coming at you from outer space is unnerving, there are a lot more realistic threats we should be concerned about. The actual (chance of) impact to any person is fairly minimal.”

NASA and the Secure World Foundation obviously aren’t aware of the human capacity to do the nearly impossible. That’s not meant to be the compliment it might sound like. It’s not about stupendous human achievement. It’s about the apparently magnetic qualities of things into which we can, and seemingly must, bump.

If you were to erect a post one day in the Bonneville Salt Flats, for example, you would likely find it bent by the next day. A corresponding dent would exist on a bumper somewhere within a day’s travel, owned by a driver who would still be swearing about that being the stupidest place in the 30,000-acre flats to put a post. He would also swear it was invisible until the moment of impact.

The Bonneville Salt Flats is big. The post and the car are small. And yet, both hypothetical objects are destined to meet.

The same phenomenon is demonstrated each time a Frisbee or a baseball connects with the one thin object near the space where they’re being thrown.

Twelve acres of nothingness can exist on either side of it, but again, there will be impact.

Also relatively small but very much nonhypothetical are the dogs and cats that cause approximately 87,000 falls each year in the United States, according to WebMD.

Around each one of them is, you guessed it: much more empty space than that which is occupied by their tiny bodies.

So get your helmet now. The space junk is coming!