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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423

• In 1961 a cow in Cuba was killed, hit by a metal fragment fallen out of the sky. This is the only documented satellite-crashing-to-Earth related fatality.

• In 1961, “in Manitowoc, WI, there was a whoosh and a bang…a 21 pound fragment fro Sputnik 4 shattered the concrete in the middle of the town” (Donnelly, 72).

• In 1969, “on the Sea of Japan, a Japanese boat was cutting through the waves. All hands on deck were watching the water…all of a sudden pieces of metal pelted down like hailstones. Five men were hit by wreckage from yet another Russian spacecraft”

• 1978 Cosmos 954 spying on warships when, “Thousands of slivers of nuclear litter whirled through the atmosphere. They landed, shooting fire, in Northern Canada…no one was hurt…the Soviets believe a piece of space junk destroyed their satellite” (Donnelly, 67). Russia has launched 37 nuclear satellites. The research-oriented Soviet Cosmos 1900 almost crashed, too. The radioactive debris from such a crash could be extremely dangerous were it to land, say, in Manhattan.

• In July of 1979, “Skylab came down in a blazing shower over a desert in Western Australia. It lit up the night sky like fire-works on July 4. Once again our planet was lucky: No one was hurt. Once again that was only because hardly anyone lived where Skylab crashed. But 500 pieces broke open the ground. Two of them weighed more than 4000 pounds each. Ten of them weighed more than 1000 pounds each. It was like a fleet of trucks pouring out of the clouds. 250 pieces weighed more than ten pounds each. Skylab’s plunge was a worldwide sensation…the most famous piece of space junk. It is also the biggest to drop from the sky” (Donnelly, 72).

• 1981 Cosmos 1275 was destroyed by debris.

• 1983 challenger hit by a 1/10 inch fleck of paint and it dented a window- it was traveling 4 miles per second.

• Finally, astronauts drop tools all the time, as happened a month ago with a whole tool bag. Here’s the video:

Largest Objects to Reenter (Courtesy of the AEC website)

Object Origin Mass (kg) Reentry Date Reentry Mode

Mir CIS 120,000 23 MAR 2001 Controlled

Skylab USA 69,000 11 JUL 1979 Uncontrolled

Salyut 7/Cosmos 1686 USSR 40,000 07 FEB 1991 Uncontrolled

Salyut 6/Cosmos 1267 USSR 35,000 29 JUL 1982 Controlled

Cosmos 557 USSR 19,400 22 MAY 1973 Uncontrolled

Salyut 5 USSR 19,000 08 AUG 1977 Controlled

Salyut 1 USSR 18,900 11 OCT 1971 Controlled

Salyut 3 USSR 18,900 24 JAN 1975 Controlled

Salyut 4 USSR 18,900 02 FEB 1977 Controlled

Apollo SA-5 Nose Cone USA 17,100 30 APR 1966 Uncontrolled

Apollo SA-6 CSM BP-13 USA 16,900 01 JUN 1964 Uncontrolled

Apollo SA-7 CSM BP-15 USA 16,650 22 SEP 1964 Uncontrolled

Cosmos 929 USSR 15,000 02 FEB 1978 Controlled

Cosmos 1443 USSR 15,000 19 SEP 1983 Controlled

Compton GRO USA 14,910 04 JUN 2000 Controlled

For a whole lot more images and examples of space debris found on Earth, check out Paul Maley’s Space Debris page found here:

Additionally, this video about the European Space Agency and space junk hits on some of the key points made thus far:

Space Junk Images

Back to the discussion on Space Junk.

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