Sunday, November 02, 2008

In Honor of NASA and the ISS... Today's Word - "Keraunothnetophobia"


Today, Sunday, is a Special Day.
(And not in the 'Sunday Church'-sort of way.)

And a Special Day deserves a Special Word.

So, The Word for Today is...


It's quite a mouthful, I know.

I chose this word because of a thankfully rare event that is happening Today (Sunday).

It's taken a little over a year - from the inaugural action that made today's event possible - for us to finally reach this momentous occasion (If it hasn't already happened, that is.)

Anticipation has been building... and so has a fair amount of Anxiety.

What - exactly - does "Keraunothnetophobia" mean?

And... What does it have to do with Today?

First, let's begin with the Definition:

Keraunothnetophobia: A Fear Of Falling Man-Made Satellites.

What does it have to do with Today?

Well... Today is the day that the massive, 1400-pound, commercial refrigerator-sized tank of toxic ammonia that was heaved from the International Space Station by astronaut Clayton Anderson - on July 23, 2007 - is expected to re-enter our atmosphere.

(NASA officials have said that they don't expect any of the dangerous debris to actually hit anyone... but their estimate is based on knowing that about 2/3 of the Earth is covered by ocean... basically - it's just a guess and fervent hopeful thinking.)

Hmm... If either You or a Loved one is tragically killed by a scrap of mangled machinery that has has fallen from the sky - which is known to be official property of NASA... Could the deceased's survivors successfully pursue a wrongful death suit against the federal space agency for damages?

A Good Question... I haven't heard it posed or answered elsewhere... yet.

Apparently, neither the United Nations nor any other international body has had the foresight to set into Law some necessary and common sense-based International Anti-Dumping Laws for Human Excursions into Outer Space. Desperately needed are laws prohibiting anyone/any country from dumping toxic and/or radioactive materials.

I find this omission rather odd. It's illegal here (signs are posted around San Francisco) to dump garbage - toxic or non-toxic - on any sidewalk, street, corner, park, etc.. Any perpetrator caught polluting will face paying hefty fines.

But, hey... If happen to find yourself orbiting the Earth whilst doing Spring Cleaning... and you want to get rid of a huge tank of poisonous ammonia... knowing that it will not be completely incinerated in the Earth's atmosphere and that it will - at some point and in some form - crash onto the surface in parts unknown... It could fall into the ocean, but... it could also slam into yours or anyone's home, car or head...

Well, that's perfectly acceptable and even cheered (I recall baseball pitching references being made when Clayton heaved it away.).

Gd, I just hope that any extra-terrestrial beings that - on the off chance - might be observing humanity's actions and weighing its potential/penchant for Doing Good or Doing Harm... possibly to help them to decide whether or not they will introduce themselves or perform a pre-emptive strike on the species... I just hope that they also see plenty of actions that prove that some members of our species are sentient, compassionate and worthy of our Priceless, One and Only, Big Blue Marble called Earth.

I definitely also hope that none of the jettisoned space junk - that's hurtling towards the surface at about 100mph - manages to kill anyone.

Well... there are a few people that we would all be better off without... but, nah.... it's not my department.

Peace... and For your own safety: Take those damn earbuds out of your ears and look up once in a while!

The EAS, or Early Ammonia Servicer... on its way home.


Space Station Trash Plunging to Earth

By Tariq Malik
Senior Editor
31 October 2008
6:30 pm ET

A piece of space station trash the size of a refrigerator is poised to plunge through the Earth's atmosphere late Sunday, more than a year after an astronaut tossed it overboard.

NASA and the U.S. Space Surveillance Network are tracking the object - a 1,400-pound (635-kg) tank of toxic ammonia coolant thrown from the International Space Station - to make sure it does not endanger people on Earth. Exactly where the tank will inevitably fall is currently unknown, though it is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere Sunday afternoon or later that evening, NASA officials said.

"This has got a very low likelihood that anybody will be impacted by it," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager, in an interview. "But still, it is a large object and pieces will enter and we just need to be cautious."

NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson threw the ammonia tank from the tip of the space station's Canadian-built robotic arm during a July 23, 2007 spacewalk. He also tossed away an unneeded video camera stand overboard as well, but that 212-pound (96-kilogram) item burned up harmlessly in the atmosphere early this year, Suffredini said.

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 kg).

If they reach all the way to land, the largest pieces could slam into the Earth's surface at about 100 mph (161 kph). But a splashdown at sea is also possible, as the planet is two-thirds ocean.

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

Known as the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS), the coolant tank is the largest piece of orbital trash ever tossed overboard by hand from the space station. Larger unmanned Russian and European cargo ships are routinely destroyed in the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean after their space station deliveries, but those disposals are controlled and preplanned.

The recent destruction of the European Space Agency's Jules Verne cargo ship was eagerly observed by scientists hoping to glean new information on how objects behave as they enter Earth's atmosphere. Observers aboard two chase planes caught photographs and video of the double-decker bus-sized spacecraft's demise, but no such campaign is possible with the returning ammonia tank.

The last object to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere with prior notice was a small asteroid the size of a kitchen table that exploded in midair as it flew over Africa on Oct. 7.

It's taken more than year for the ammonia tank to slowly slip down toward Earth due to atmospheric drag. During its time aboard the station, the tank served as a coolant reservoir to boost the outpost's cooling system in the event of leaks. Upgrades to the station last year made the tank obsolete, and engineers were concerned that its structural integrity would not withstand a ride back to Earth aboard a NASA space shuttle.

Instead, they tossed it overboard, or "jettisoned" it in NASA parlance.

Suffredini said that while astronauts have accidentally lost a tool or two during spacewalks, the planned jettison of larger items is done with the utmost care to ensure the trash doesn't hit the station or any other spacecraft as it circles the Earth. Engineers also make sure the risk to people on Earth is low, as well.

"As a matter of course, we don't throw things overboard haphazardly," Suffredini said. "We have a policy that has certain criteria we have to meet before you can throw something overboard."

In the event the tank re-enters over land, NASA advised members of the public to contact their local authorities, or the U.S. Department of State via diplomatic channels if outside the U.S., if they believe they've found its remains.

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