The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS)
  • image from NASA
  • The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS)

We're fucked.

A decommissioned NASA satellite is plummeting towards the Earth's surface as we speak, but it seems that it's not entering the atmosphere exactly when the rocket scientists thought it would. From the Washington Post:

Thursday night, the space agency said that the 35-foot-long satellite would probably reenter Friday afternoon or early evening (Eastern time) and that it wouldn’t be over North America at that time.

But this has proved to be a squishy situation with enormous, globe-spanning margins of error.

UARS appeared to be on a trajectory to splash into the desolate South Pacific sometime Friday night, according to a map published by the Aerospace Corp., which uses Air Force tracking data. The map indicated that if the satellite crashed just 20 to 25 minutes later, it would be over North America.

This was a significant change from a previous projection by the same organization, which showed UARS coming in several hours earlier and reentering the atmosphere just off the west coast of South America.

In other words, they don't quite know exactly when or where the six-ton satellite will crash to the ground. Could be later tonight. Could be tomorrow morning. Or, you know, whenevs. Statistically, the chances of a piece of the satellite hitting a human are only "1 in 3,200." For some reason, those aren't confidence-inspiring odds to me.

This news comes on the heels of NASA's publication of their 25-year plan for the future of space exploration, which includes another manned voyage to the moon as well as the possibility of asteroid exploration. Noticeably absent from the plan is what NASA will do in the next 24 or so hours about a six-ton piece of space garbage that is about to collide with Earth.