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Shades of Skylab: the re-entry of the UARS satellite, and the psychological effects of orbital debris

22 Sep 2011, 04:49 UTC
Shades of Skylab: the re-entry of the UARS satellite, and the psychological effects of orbital debris
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

This Friday, debris from NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is predicted to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Twenty six components are expected to survive, with a 1-in-3200 chance of hitting someone or something. Where it will re-enter is not precisely known. Artist's impression of UARS. Image courtesy of NASA When Skylab was about to re-enter, there was a great deal of speculation and fear across the world. In the early days, NASA did not give much thought to managing public expectations, only establishing an information centre towards the end. Some thought that it was best not to give the public the impression that NASA was in control (only partially true) as it would reduce the blame if anything went wrong! People thought the world might blow up, or that the spacecraft would descend upon them in vengeance for their misdemeanours (see also my previous post here). Psychologist Talma Kushnir investigated how people in Israel perceived the risk. This is how she summed up the situation:The anticipation of the fall of Skylab was a worldwide event. Several features of that situation might have caused confusion and emotional arousal in at least part of the population. For example, catastrophes usually occur without ...

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