Observatory on a suicide mission | Science News

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Observatory on a suicide mission

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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.

Most of the 17-ton satellite will vaporize as it crashes through Earth's atmosphere, but some 30 to 40 titanium pieces, a few as heavy as tens of kilograms, will survive. Debris will be scattered over an area about 25 kilometers wide and 1,500 km long in a remote region of the eastern Pacific about 4,000 km sou

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