What Goes Up Must Come Down

Here’s the problem. When you’ve got an object as big as this 10-ton satellite, some of it will survive the plunge to Earth. That’s especially true when there are hardened pieces.

mir_atmosphere.jpgIt looks like a US spy satellite is out-of-control and will soon plunge back into the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s happened before.

I remember when Mir plunged to Earth. The photo on the left shows what was left as the debris passed over Fiji.

Back in 1979 pieces of Skylab fell on Australia. No one was injured.

The question is, is this dangerous? Uh… yeah. Though there is some conflict in that opinion.

I just checked Google’s news site and found “Falling US satellite is not dangerous – NASA” from Russia’s Interfax news agency. That’s a relief.

Oops. Hold on. Here’s what the Times of London says: “Threat as 10-ton satellite set to crash back to Earth”

So, it’s either not dangerous or a threat. Got it?

Here’s the problem. When you’ve got an object as big as this 10-ton satellite, some of it will survive the plunge to Earth. That’s especially true when there are hardened pieces.

From the New York Times:

John E. Pike, the director of Globalsecurity.org in Alexandria, Va., said that if the satellite in question was a spy satellite, it was unlikely to have any kind of nuclear fuel, but that it could contain toxins, including beryllium, which is often used as a rigid frame for optical components.

The speculation is this is a spy satellite, launched in 2006 and quickly lost. It probably went up with hydrazine for thrusters. That’s really nasty stuff.

When properly used in space:

The catalyst chamber can reach 800° C&#185 in a matter of milliseconds, and they produce large volumes of hot gas from a small volume of liquid hydrazine, making it an efficient thruster propellant.” – Wikipedia

When improperly encountered on the ground:

Hydrazine is highly toxic and dangerously unstable, especially in the anhydrous form. Symptoms of acute exposure to high levels of hydrazine in humans may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma, and it can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine. – Wikipedia

The Earth is mainly covered by water. Even the land portion of Earth is sparsely populated in most spots. The odds of anyone getting hurt is small.

However, the more stuff that falls down, the worse those odds get.

&#185 – Here in the US, we use Fahrenheit. 800&#176 C is about 1,500&#176 F.

For perspective, aluminum melts at 1218&#176 F. Most other ‘substantial’ metals have significantly higher melt points.

I Didn’t Know I Was This Nice

My friend Farrell’s mom, Ruth, has been interviewed again about her escape from New Orleans.

Every time she tells the story, I become a bigger hero. It’s now the “Legend of Geoff Fox.”

Seriously, this was a call anyone with info would make to the parent of a close friend. I am glad Ruth escaped New Orleans unscathed. I’m glad she listened to her family and friends, because I know in her heart she very much wanted to stay.

The story from the Valley Gazette continues at the jump.

Continue reading “I Didn’t Know I Was This Nice”

Dinner With A Hurricane Katrina Survivor

A week ago, as Hurricane Katrina was strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico, I spent some time on the phone with my friend’s 86 year old mom. I tried… I guess I did convince her to leave her New Orleans home.

Before dawn Sunday morning she got into her car and drove to the Louisiana Superdome. This was before all the tumult and grief there. Before long they had her on a bus headed to Alexandria. She never got there. The bus drove 10 hours to Baton Rouge (a one hour trip under normal circumstances) and dropped her off at LSU.

Though we’ve all see the horrific images from New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, Ruth was treated well at LSU. They fed her and there was air conditioning, while the power was on.

We all assume Ruth’s house and all her possessions are gone. The area it’s in was one of the hardest hit, under ten or more feet of water! Her car, in the Superdome parking lot is probably a total loss as well.

A few days ago, my friend bought tickets to bring his mom to Connecticut&#185. She will stay with her daughter who lives here in the Naugatuck Valley.

When I heard Ruth was coming to Connecticut, I told the station’s assignment desk and we sent Darren Duarte to do a story. Ruth is telegenic and articulate. The story was very emotional – as you might imagine.

Astoundingly, and much to her delight, Ruth has become a ‘TV star’. First it was the UPS man, delivering a package, asking if she was the woman from television? Then at Macy’s in the Trumbull Mall.

Last night, Ruth and family invited me to dinner at Tony & Lucille’s on Wooster Street in New Haven. Dinner was exceptional. Even Ruth, a lifelong New Orleans resident… a city known for it’s astounding cuisine… was blown away.

More interesting were Ruth’s stories and her amazing attitude. I don’t know about you, but if I had lost everything, I don’t think I could have maintained her composure and positive attitude.

Everything is gone – photos, letters, memorabilia. Furniture and cars, even houses can be replaced (and, thankfully, she has the insurance to do that). But how do you replace a lifetime of possessions with special meaning? There is no insurance for that.

Ruth has no imminent plans to return to New Orleans. She will probably take up living with her daughter and, if all goes well, just stay.

This is part of what will change New Orleans. At the dinner table we discussed whether New Orleans would ever come back?

Can tourists and conventions ever look past the images of gun toting thugs walking down the street or the misery of the people trapped in the Convention Center, Superdome and even on highway overpasses?

Will those with means, like Ruth I suppose, flee the city? It could turn from a primarily poor and black city to a totally poor and black city. An analogy was made to Newark, NJ.

That would be a shame. Though it’s an overused term, New Orleans really was a one of a kind city. It would be nice to see it return to that stature.

&#185 – When my friend, whose name I have kept from these entries, called his travel agent to tell his mother’s story and get tickets, the agent said the trip was on her company. Some stories from this tragedy are good. Most of us do operate the way you’d like under difficult circumstances.

Katrina Is Scaring People

After working this morning, I came home and caught a few more hours of sleep. I’ll explain later, but my day is far from done. I’m driving to Uncasville later this afternoon&#185.

My first TV viewing was to scan the all news channels. The attitude concerning Hurricane Katrina is much different than yesterday. Whether the channels are feeding on each other’s energy or truly understand the gravity of the situation, is an unknown. They are in “Big Story Panic Mode.”

When TV shows back-to-back phoners with no live video, the implication is the story is huge.

This is not misplaced angst. Everything I can see about this storm says the same thing. It’s is a monster.

A few minutes ago, I sent this IM to my friend Bob at FSU:

Geoff (2:36:22 PM): My sense is, this storm has achieved meteorological perfection – and will become unstable as such. The length of time a storm can grow in strength is finite

Maybe that’s an academic point. If Katrina went from its current 175 mph sustained wind to 150 mph, no one would notice the difference.

Force is calculated by squaring the wind speed. So, at this point, it’s not how many miles per hour Katrina increases or decreases, it’s whether that number is a significant percentage of the starting point.

bob (2:47:20 PM): the tv weatherman on new orleans (wwltv.com ?) couple hours ago actually said “looks like the center my go a little further right than forecast, sparing the city the worst”

bob (2:47:23 PM): i couldn’t believe it

bob (2:47:27 PM): in the midst of mand. evac

bob (2:47:30 PM): of million people

bob (2:47:41 PM): even IF it ends up turning out true, i thought very irresponsible

He’s right. You can’t give people a reason to stay at this point. The downside is just too tragic. I’m sure this is a mixed metaphor, but the risk is much greater than our ability to accurately forecast landfall.

Doing live television for hours on end is no easy task. From time-to-time we’ll all slip. I saw WWL-TV last night and they were doing an excellent job. This guy gets a temporary pass from me – though he shouldn’t have said what he said.

My friend’s mom in New Orleans has left her home. Yesterday I could hear how little she wanted to do that. She was alone and scared. Whatever guidance was being given by officials wasn’t enough to reassure her.


My mother just called on her mobile live and direct outside from the Superdome. They’re bussing her to Alexandria, LA., which is well north of Baton Rouge. She should be there for up to five days. At least the city is smart enough to do that knowing what could be coming.

Thanks, again, for your concern.

This is a much better scenario than her original intention to stay at the Superdome itself. It would seem to me, a building like that is the wrong place to seek shelter, with its high and large roof. And, being in the city, it too is built below sea level.

It won’t be long before Hurricane Katrina is well within radar range. The best pictures come when the storm is squarely within the view of the lowest radar tilt. Right now feeder bands dominate.

If you were at the mouth of the Mississippi right now, you would see heavy rolling surf. The wind would be gusty, but not even tropical storm strength.

From time-to-time the southeastern sky would darken as squalls moved in.

These would be rain storms that start with heavy rain – not easing in from light to moderate to heavy. The drops would be huge… blobs of rain is probably a better description than drops.

And then, as suddenly as the rain began, it would end. As the day went on, these squalls would each become progressively stronger with the time between squalls decreasing.

The big stuff would be there until tomorrow.

&#185 – If you’re not in Connecticut, Uncasville is as centrally located and convenient to get to as the name Uncasville implies.