NORAD, NORTHCOM Trace Space Junk to Soviet Rocket
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2007 That bright flash that fell from space early today over Wyoming wasn’t a bird, a plane or a superhero, but a Russian SL-4 rocket body reentering the earth’s atmosphere, officials at North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command confirmed today.
The spacecraft launch stage came back into our atmosphere over Wyoming through Colorado earlier this morning, Air Force Capt. Elena O’Brien, a NORAD and NORTHCOM spokesperson, told American Forces Press Service.
“This is really not an unusual event; it happens all the time,” O’Brien said. “What’s unusual is that it happened where people can see it. Because so much of the earth is water, most of it ends up in the ocean.”
The 1st Space Control Squadron at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colo., tracked the reentry from a Dec. 27 launch, she said. The squadron tracks millions of items orbiting the earth every day.
NORTHCOM and NORAD are still gathering information about the number and exact size of the incoming debris, but O’Brien said it is relatively small because larger pieces usually break up during reentry.
All pieces of the rocket have now reentered the earth’s atmosphere, and most of the debris is expected to have fallen in Southwestern Colorado and Northwestern New Mexico, officials said.
They emphasized that no damage has been reported, and the debris is not believed to be hazardous. However, they encourage anyone who believes they may know the location of a piece from this rocket to exercise caution and inform local authorities immediately for potential recovery operations.
The biggest concern, O’Brien said, is that the debris is still hot, because the tremendous friction caused during reentry causes it to heat to thousands of degrees centigrade.
The NORAD-USNORTHCOM Command Center informed the National Guard Bureau and Department of Homeland Security so they are prepared to respond, if necessary.