Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sky Isn't Falling, But the EAS Is... Heads Up!

You can't say I didn't warn you...
I did a blog about this right from the start last July.

The EAS is Coming.

What is the EAS?

Well, sadly, it isn't a government-issued, economic stimulus check.

And it isn't one of those secretive, three-lettered, black-ops, "we can neither confirm or deny..." groups.

The Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) is a double refrigerator-sized, 1400-lb., ammonia-filled tank that was heaved into space by U.S. astronaut Clayton Anderson from the International Space Station on July 23, 2007.

It was brought there in case the ISS developed a leak. As it turned out, the toxic tank wasn't needed after all and by 2007, it had exceeded it's 'Best Used By:' date. What was NASA et al to do? Bring it back on the Space Shuttle? Umm... er... Well, with there only being a small number of Space Shuttle flights left in that program... there's just no time... or room to bring it back to Earth. Besides, look at that vast expanse of space out there... what's one little, 1400-lb. ammonia-filled tank amid all that open space, right?

Yeah, right. At the time it was jettisoned, NASA admitted that there was already more than 9,000 pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth that are large enough to be tracked.

Besides, NASA rationalized, it'll probably just orbit the Earth for several months as it falls and then it'll probably be incinerated during it's re-entry into the atmosphere... well, at least the bigger chunks will... and, if they don't... well, they'll probably drop harmlessly into the ocean... at least we hope so.

In a most painfully funny irony...
"Our spaceship Earth is a beautiful place," Anderson was heard to marvel during the spacewalk, his first.

Yeah, Anderson... It is Beautiful. Let's try to keep it that way.




Large Chunk of ISS Space Junk Becomes Easy to Observe
July 22nd, 2008
Written by: Ian O'Neill

A huge piece of space debris, weighing 1400 lb (635 kg) and the size of two refrigerators, is gradually falling to Earth, giving observers on the ground a great opportunity to see it. The junk was jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2007 and it is expected to re-enter the atmosphere later this year or early 2009. The Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) was dropped from the ISS after a seven hour spacewalk and pushed in the opposite direction of the space station's orbit shortly before a re-boost by a Soyuz resupply vehicle. This ensured the EAS would pose no danger to the ISS or crew on future orbits. Now the container is beginning its final few months in space and the bets are on as to where it will crash to Earth…

When the EAS, filled with ammonia coolant, had served its purpose the ISS crew had little choice but to throw it overboard. Astronaut Clay Anderson led the July 23rd 2007 operation with the assistance of cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and robotic arm operator Oleg Kotov as they shoved the EAS Earth-ward along with a 212 lb (96 kg) stanchion used to attach a camera to the station. The whole EVA lasted 7 hours and 41 minutes and the EAS was noted as the largest single piece of junk dropped from the ISS. At the time, mission control estimated that the EAS would orbit the Earth for 300 days; obviously this was a huge underestimate as it continues to spiral closer to the atmosphere one year after the mission.

The EAS is a huge piece of debris and easily tracked from the ground and poses no threat to missions, but it may be a hazard if, as expected, a large portion of the equipment survives re-entry.

Currently, the EAS can be seen over Europe, and next week North America will be able to spot it. For information on where and when to look for a chance to observe this huge lump of waste from the ISS, check out's Simple Satellite Tracker before it starts to flirt with our upper atmosphere in the next few months.

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