A cluster of U.S. fishing boats floating near Mir's target zone not only appeared to dodge falling chunks of the space station, none of the fishermen or their families have even reported sighting any evidence of the streaking descent.
"It was cloudy and the weather was bad," reported Wayne Heikkila, general manager of the Western Fishboat Owners Association. "Some of the guys have reported seeing a few stars through the clouds, but that's been it."
The uneventful night for the 21 West Coast-based fishermen arrived after much hand-wringing that their current locations in the South Pacific might have made them floating targets as the Mir barreled through the atmosphere and rained down pieces of debris.
Streaks of light from the falling space station were sighted over Fiji early this morning about 1,800 miles east of Wellington, New Zealand. No injuries or collisions have been reported.
"It looks like everybody's fine and nobody saw anything," Heikkila said in a report early this morning.
Specks in a Vast Sea
The 21 U.S. albacore tuna fishing vessels had learned of their potentially perilous location only a week before and hadn't had time to clear out. As Tana McHale, a fisheries consultant with the fleet, explained, the boats can only move about 7 to 8 knots — which was not fast enough to vacate the projected splashdown zone in time.
But Robert Culp, an aerospace engineer at the University of Colorado at Boulder had predicted it was highly unlikely anyone would encounter falling, smoldering space debris.
"Debris comes in all the time. There's an average of 10-20 re-entries every month," he said. "Every once in a while, someone finds a piece that didn't burn up in their back yard. But it's a huge world. Only once in a billion times, someone may get hit."