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Observatory on a suicide mission

1:26pm, October 4, 2002

In the interest of safety, NASA has decided to plunge a spacecraft into the Pacific Ocean.

Late last year, one of the three gyroscopes on the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) failed, leaving the satellite with the minimum number necessary to steer the craft. The space agency wants to direct the craft back through Earth's atmosphere in a controlled manner, while the two other gyros still function.

So on May 26, after 9 years of mapping the gamma-ray sky, GRO will close up shop. Engineers then will fire the craft's thrusters, slowing the satellite and causing it to lose altitude. If all goes according to plan, GRO will reenter the atmosphere in early June.

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