Although a dead twenty year old NASA satellite will soon fall to Earth there is not much of a chance for any of the pieces to hit anyone. They expect it to fall sometime between late September and October and pieces of the satellite could land anywhere in the six inhabited continents from the tip of South America to south of Juneau, Alaska. Most of the satellite will burn up before it even hits Earth’s atmosphere. In 2005 this six ton research satellite ran out of fuel and will fall out of orbit with only about one thousand two hundred pounds of metal surviving.
Most of the space debris will hit water because the Earth is mostly ocean. When this satellite was put into orbit in 1991 it was sent into space to measure chemicals in the air. Usually NASA tries to put their dead satellites into what they call a “graveyard orbit” and steer them to a safe landing in the ocean. Unfortunately there was not enough fuel in this particular satellite to do either one of these things.
NASA reports that space debris that is larger than five tons does not often fall back to Earth but this is the third time this year this has happened that something this big reached Earth. They are calculating that when it does fall back to Earth pieces will scatter over a five hundred mile wide radius but there will probably be no hazardous material left in the pieces that fall but if you see any pieces you should still not touch it.