Houston County Courier - Local News
Stories Added - February 2009
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Falling Space Debris Puzzles Authorities
Houston County Courier - February 2009
WACO (February 16, 2009)-Witnesses say “it” rattled windows and literally shook the ground in a number of area counties but authorities are not confirming what “it” was.
The U.S. Strategic Command says the reported sightings are not connected to Tuesday's crash of U.S. and Russian satellites.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman just says, "We don't know what it was."
It was speculated early Sunday afternoon that falling debris which was described by witnesses as a “ball of fire,” producing what one person described as “a horrific explosion” came from two satellites that collided last week over Siberia.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, although several small grassfires broke out around the same time as the explosion.
It wasn’t clear whether the space debris ignited those fires. The FAA said it received numerous reports Sunday across Texas of falling debris.
FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said officials suspect the debris could be related to the collision, but he said that had not been confirmed.
The FAA posted a notice to pilots on Saturday that “until further notice…a potential hazard may occur due to the reentry of satellite debris into the Earth’s atmosphere.”
“In the interest of flight safety,” the notice said, “it is critical that all pilots/flight crewmembers report any observed falling space debris to the appropriate (air traffic control) facility.”
Law enforcement agencies were advised Sunday to contain the debris so it can be tested to confirm it came from the satellites.
Residents who find debris should leave it where they found it and contact a law enforcement agency. Some area residents saw the falling debris Sunday morning.
Jetta Hicks was driving on FM 1624 west of Calvert when she said she saw something burning in the sky, falling at a 45-degree angle.
She said it had a tail and appeared to be flaming. She said she didn’t see anything hit the ground.
A resident of the Hubbard area reported seeking smoke high in the air at the time of the explosion and a camper at Mother Neff State Park in Coryell County spotted smoke from the falling debris.
Another witness who was in the Belton area described seeing “a ball of fire coming out of the sky.”
Residents reported feeling the explosion from the Marlin area north to Corsicana.
Authorities checked on reports of debris in the Leroy area early Sunday afternoon, but none has been found so far.
What witnesses saw was reminiscent of the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia during reentry 39 miles above Texas on Feb. 1, 2003.
The disintegrating shuttle left a path of debris that stretched from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Louisiana.
The debris field covered more than 28 thousand square miles in 33 Texas counties. Investigators later determined that a chunk of foam the size of a suitcase tore a hole in Columbia's left wing 82 seconds after liftoff.
The breach allowed superheated gasses to enter the wing as the shuttle reentered the atmosphere at a speed of more than 12,000 miles an hour.
This time, the most immediate concern after law enforcement officials determined the cause of the explosion was whether the debris had touched off any fires in the dry brush.
A law enforcement helicopter was used to survey the area from the air.
The pilot reported that he saw no evidence of fires.
The two communications satellites collided Tuesday in the first-ever crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit.
The collision occurred Tuesday nearly 500 miles over Siberia, producing a pair of massive debris clouds, according to NASA.
The collision involved an Iridium commercial satellite, which was launched in 1997, and a Russian satellite launched in 1993 and believed to be non-functioning.
Each satellite weighed more than 1, 000 pounds, officials said.