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Space Earth NASA

Space Litter To Hit Earth Tomorrow 443

Posted by kdawson
from the leave-only-memories-take-only-footprints dept.
A refrigerator-sized tank of toxic ammonia, tossed from the international space station last year, is expected to hit earth tomorrow afternoon or evening. The 1,400-pound object was deliberately jettisoned — by hand — from the ISS's robot arm in July 2007. Since the time of re-entry is uncertain, so is the location. "NASA expects up to 15 pieces of the tank to survive the searing hot temperatures of re-entry, ranging in size from about 1.4 ounces (40 grams) to nearly 40 pounds (17.5 kilograms). ... [T]he largest pieces could slam into the Earth's surface at about 100 mph (161 kph). ...'If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it,' [a NASA spokesman] said."
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Space Litter To Hit Earth Tomorrow

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  • Cloudy (Score:5, Funny)

    by DeadPixels (1391907) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @05:42PM (#25597785)
    With a chance of toxic ammonia-coated metal chunks?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by digitalgiblet (530309)

      Basically the NASA equivalent of driving down the highway, peeing in a can and throwing it out the window...

  • by penginkun (585807) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @05:43PM (#25597787)

    As opposed to that non-toxic, safe-to-eat, oh-so-good-for-you ammonia they sell down at the cleaning supplies store?

  • by lecithin (745575) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @05:45PM (#25597799)
  • Assuming a capable laser system, would a gentle laser push towards earth be a good way to clean up space junk? Would away from earth be better?

    A laser which would simply annihilate the junk would be admittedly cooler, but could de-orbit be accomplished with much less power?

    • A push away from earth would probably be easier, as you could do it with a ground-based laser. I imagine such a push could make the object's orbit elliptical enough that it would re-enter sooner than it otherwise would.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @08:40PM (#25599033) Homepage

      Assuming a capable laser system, would a gentle laser push towards earth be a good way to clean up space junk? Would away from earth be better?

      A laser which would simply annihilate the junk would be admittedly cooler, but could de-orbit be accomplished with much less power?

      Last time I tried to get my car to roll backwards by turning on the headlights, it took a really long time....

  • by zappepcs (820751) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @05:54PM (#25597855) Journal

    about how cool this is?

    First, here is NASA being about as open about it as they can get. We dumped a toxic container out, and it might hit your house or spouse or both. Possible reason for joy?

    Second, 50 years ago there was probably only two people on the entire planet that could have thought such a safety announcement would be put out with all the fame and glory of a news item about a fender bender in the WalMart parking lot!

    I kind of look forward to news reports like this:

    Space weather warning: Launch News- Today in the Southern Americas regions, the likelihood of debris showers is at Threat Level Orange. Expected drop zone is 15 miles off the coast of Peru as the StarLiner "Moses" launches for Alpha Centauri.
    Between the hours of 13:00 GMT and 23:50 GMT, some pieces of the launch platform are expected to survive the searing heat of re-entry. It is possible for pieces up to 57 kilograms to reach the Earth's surface. Please contact the local constabulary for concerns about livestock. Normal insurance claim processes apply.

    You all wanted flying cars. I want star cruisers and Earth 2.0.

    • I want star cruisers and Earth 2.0.

      You already got Earth 2 [imdb.com] back in 1994. Too bad it kinda sucked.

      • by zappepcs (820751)

        That was the Hollywood version, and the cheap Hollywood version at that. I want the real one, with funky lizards that talk and stuff like that.

    • Nasa Suess (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:05PM (#25597973) Homepage Journal

      A star is falling
      With nasty goo
      It's kinda sticky
      It smells like poo

      It may hit a house
      It may hit a mouse
      And if you don't look out
      It will hit your spouse

      But you can't duck
      And you can't run
      'Cause it's falling faster
      Than a Bullet from a Gun

      It might hit with a thud
      Or a squishy "smoosh"
      It may make a hole
      Or knock out a tooth

      Quickly Quickly!
      Find somebody to sue
      For the fast and smelly
      Outer space goo!

  • "If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it,' [a NASA spokesman] said."

    Why the hell not? If I find it first... it's mine.

  • I wonder if they can track where this stuff will end up falling to earth. Given the earth is 70% ocean, there is a good chance that it wont hit land. Still. the idea of a refridgerator sized piece of toxic metal slamming down, perhaps anywhere, does make one a little nervous. Still ones chance of getting hit by lightning is greater than having this fall on top of you.

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:00PM (#25597911) Homepage

      Natural space junk of similar mass hits the Earth all the time. When was the last time you heard of anyone getting killed by a meteorite?

      • by Tony Hoyle (11698) * <tmh@nodomain.org> on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:21PM (#25598083) Homepage

        It's rare but being hit by metorites *does* happen. I can't find a recorded instance since 2002 (although there's a nice picture of a destroyed car [nasa.gov] from 1992 which probably doesn't count as it didn't hit a person.

        Of course by the time it hits someone it's normally little more than a very hot pebble, and causes little more than some burning.

        If something the size of a fridge hit you you'd feel a little bit more than a burning sensation!

        • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @07:00PM (#25598351) Homepage

          > It's rare but being hit by metorites *does* happen.

          That's my point. six billion people, it's rare that any are hit by all that natural junk, and you are worried about this?

          > If something the size of a fridge hit you you'd feel a little bit more than a burning
          > sensation!

          NASA says no pieces larger than 40lb.

          • by jamesh (87723) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @08:37PM (#25598999)

            That's my point. six billion people, it's rare that any are hit by all that natural junk, and you are worried about this?

            I've wondered about this before. A good percentage of those six billion people are in places where it might not be reported if one of them were killed by something falling from above... how sure are we that it hasn't happened once or twice before and we just never heard about it?

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by John Hasler (414242)

              People have been hit by meteorites. They've also been hit by lumps of ice falling off airliners. Neither is classed as a major hazard, though.

  • Collectors beware (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zakezuke (229119) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @05:58PM (#25597887)

    If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it

    Yes, I hope they don't, but in reality if someone encounters a piece of space trash, and see it for space trash, they will pick it up thinking it might be worth something.

  • You could probably get a fair amount for something like that and then I could that money for something useful like coke and whores.
  • ..that if I find a piece of anything tomorrow, keeping away is the LAST thing I'll be doing.

    thangyewverymuchyoureamarvellousaudiencelaydisgenlmn

  • TFA Problems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:05PM (#25597965) Journal

    "A refrigerator-sized tank of toxic ammonia, tossed from the international space station last year, is expected to hit earth tomorrow afternoon or evening."

    Written for maximum impact at the expense of accuracy. Frinstance: Toxic ammonia vs. what? Inert, organism-friendly ammonia? The modifier is as useful as adding "wet" to water.

    The distinction would matter if the tank were going to land intact. As TFA states it'll break up during reentry. Any ammonia inside will be explosively released due to reentry heat increasing the pressure, the fact that the first break will destroy any aerodynamic stability and rip the tank and components to shreds nearly instantly, and/or the ammonia being sucked out through the first breach by the low pressure at high altitude and the vacuum created by the air speed.

    But that makes the spokescritter's point re: finding pieces moot and the comment mostly FUD. Any pieces will be chunks of metal, possibly with sharp edges but most likely rounded by reentry heat.

    To their credit, unlike many previous articles, TFA makes the attempt to indicate the probability of sea vs. land impact rather than run with the FUD hype of the latter alone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by blackest_k (761565)

      toxic ammonia is only redundant if you know ammonia is toxic, how many people know Obama is muslim? or any manner of other well knowed things.

       

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jamesh (87723)

      And since when did the refridgerator become a unit of measure? Is it a bar fridge? The sort of mini fridge you have in the back of your SUV? A double door fridge-freezer combination?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)

      Well in part, it may simply be a warning. Most people do not know all the chemicals out there and may not know ammonia is toxic. Also, just because a chemical is present, doesn't mean it is present in a dangerous state. I keep an explosive alkali metal and a toxic gas in my kitchen. However, they are in the form of NaCl, table salt, and thus are harmless. Noting that it is toxic is a way of indicating that it is either in a free state or in a dangerous compound. However you can very well have ammonia in a h

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:17PM (#25598053)

    ...'If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it,' [a NASA spokesman] said."

    Hmm...and why might that be? Some stray ammonia molecules might still be clinging to said pieces? I read somewhere (probably here) that meteorites are actually cool to the touch if they arrive on the ground intact. I don't recall pieces of Columbia starting fires upon impact.

    So if temperature isn't the issue, why would a NASA spokesman make such an inane statement?

  • An important detail (Score:3, Interesting)

    by techno-vampire (666512) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:19PM (#25598067) Homepage
    There's something important that the summary ignored. (surprise, surprise) If you RTFA, you'll learn that the tank is filled with "toxic ammonia coolant." That means that the contents are very good at absorbing heat; else they'd be no good as a coolant. And, we all know that reentry generates lots and lots of heat. I wonder if anybody at NASA knows how much pressure that tank can hold and how likely it is to burst long before it reaches the ground.
  • Don't believe NASA. They're in the pocket of the vogons, who are targeting key computer installations at an undisclosed location. ... just as we were about to enter the year of Linux on the desktop! That would have allowed us to form a global beowulf cluster which would finally be able to calculate the number 42, along with a proof that it indeed is the right answer.

    Damn vogons and their toxic ammonia. You know what this means, right? Keep a towel handy, and don't keep your laptop in your lap. There's

  • Hrmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by hack slash (1064002) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:26PM (#25598119)
    When this refrigerator sized chunk hits the ground and finally stops rolling, will it open and Indiana Jones falls out?
  • by ticklemeozmo (595926) <justin...j...novack@@@acm...org> on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:43PM (#25598225) Homepage Journal
    Some weird looking bunny told me this news yesterday.  Wonder how he knew?
  • Strange warning. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by karlandtanya (601084) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @06:55PM (#25598311)
    If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn't get too close to it

    Why the concern? By the time it's on the ground, it's stopped, all the ammonia has boiled off, and if it's still hot, it'll cool off pretty quickly? What's the danger? Is there some green goop on it that will turn you into the blob?

  • Odds Of,,, (Score:5, Funny)

    by maz2331 (1104901) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @10:59PM (#25599831)

    Considering the uncertainty of where it will hit, what does the /. community think would be a good line to place on any of these occuring:

    1. Debris Hits John McCain in the head?
    2. Debris Hits John McCain AND Sarah Palin in the head?
    3. Debris hits Barak Obama in the head?
    4. Debris Hits Barak Obama AND Joe Biden in the head?
    5. Debris Hits George Bush in the head?
    6. Debris Hits Osama bin Laden in the head?
    7. Debris hits nobody in the head?
    8. Debris hits nobody's house?
    9. Debris causes zero real damage to everything?
    10. Who cares what we talk about on /. anyway?

  • by ChangelingJane (1042436) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @12:28AM (#25600299)
    This is like a lottery ticket for people who are both suicidal and seriously lazy.
  • by NeuroManson (214835) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @03:19AM (#25600983) Homepage

    PleaseLetOneHitMyCar... PleaseLetOneHitMyCar... PleaseLetOneHitMyCar...

  • Hmmmmm..... (Score:5, Funny)

    by IHC Navistar (967161) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @06:14AM (#25601419)

    A single sheet of newspaper blows off my boat into the water and I get a $100 fine for littering.

    NASA intentionally hurls a "refrigerator-sized tank of toxic ammonia" weighing 1400 pounds into the ocean and nothing happens to them.

    Something doesn't add up.

  • by Ma8thew (861741) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @07:17AM (#25601583)
    Obviously the chances of it hitting anything are low, but say it actually hits something of value: a house, a car, a person... Is anyone liable for it?

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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