NASA: Satellite could scatter debris over 500 miles

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A 6.5-ton decommissioned NASA science satellite will make an uncontrolled plunge back through the atmosphere by early October, exposing a 500-mile-wide swath of land and sea to falling debris.

But NASA officials said the risk to the public is "extremely small."

"Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry," the space agency said in a statement posted online.

It's too early to predict exactly when the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will re-enter the atmosphere, how much of the spacecraft will survive, and where wreckage might fall.

But the 35-foot-long satellite is in an orbit that crosses over six continents and three oceans.

NASA said it was not yet possible to pinpoint just where in that zone the debris would land, but the agency predicts pieces could scatter over a 500-mile-wide region.

The agency will brief journalists on the situation during a news media teleconference today.

NASA and Air Force officials responsible for tracking orbital debris also plan to provide regular updates on the status of the satellite's re-entry as it grows nearer.

If anyone comes across an object they think might be satellite debris, NASA advises them not touch it and to contact law enforcement.

Shuttle Discovery deployed the UARS satellite in Sept. 1991 during a six-day mission.

From 350 miles above the planet, 10 science instruments sought to study human impacts on Earth's upper atmosphere, including depletion of the ozone layer.

The satellite was decommissioned nearly six years ago.