LOS ANGELES (CBS) — NASA now says that one of its six-ton satellites could hit the United States when it falls to earth late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
The space agency had said its Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, would fall somewhere in the South Pacific on Friday, but it appears the satellite will arrive later and closer to California.
“The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent,” NASA officials wrote in a morning status update Friday. “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent.”
“At this point, it’s really too hard to tell,” Michael Duncan of the Vandenburg Air Force Base told CBS2 earlier this week. “When we create these orbits, they’re only accurate to a certain period of time, and when you’re talking about being off by 15 minutes, it can relate to a 5,000- to 7,000 -mile-footprint difference.”
It’s unknown if California is at greater risk than middle America or the East Coast because of its closer proximity to the satellite’s originally projected path.
UARS, which was launched in 1991, will fall apart upon re-entering earth’s atmosphere, but some pieces are expected to be several hundred pounds.
NASA says the chance of UARS hitting a person is 1 in 3,200, far better than winning a lottery, but much more painful.