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  Mir space station debris found in Massachusetts

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Author Topic:   Mir space station debris found in Massachusetts
SpaceAholic
Member

Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-15-2013 04:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
WBZ-TV reports that a rock found in an Amesbury backyard came from the Mir space station.
Phil Green wasn't quite sure what he had, when he noticed the unusual rock on the banks of the Merrimack River.

His yard backs up to the river and he was on one of his frequent walks, looking for arrowheads. The tide was low, leaving behind exposed mud and smooth granite. And then he noticed something that just didn’t look right.

...Phil's sister in law also thought it was from space so she sent it to a friend who works for NASA. That friend confirmed the rock was special, and that it wasn't actually a rock at all.

What Phil had found was a piece of the Russian Space Station Mir. When Mir was de-commissioned, much of it burned up as it re-entered Earth's orbit. The rest landed in the South Pacific Ocean. Somehow, one palm-sized chunk crashed into the Merrimack River in Amesbury.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-15-2013 04:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So what could the "sister's friend at NASA" have found that would have positively (and singularly) identified this as coming from the Mir space station?

Did the Mir space station's final orbital track even take it over Massachusetts, let alone North America?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-15-2013 04:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Attempting to answer my own second question first, here's a SPACE.com map of the reentry based on the data released by TsUP, Moscow Mission Control:

From RussianSpaceWeb.com, here's the view of the trajectory map at the front of Russia's mission control showing Mir's path just before the final deorbit burn. Here's the impact zone displayed on the same screen.

dfox
Member

Posts: 196
From: Scarsdale, NY, United States
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 06-15-2013 05:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dfox   Click Here to Email dfox     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Can the Russians claim ownership and demand it's return?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-15-2013 06:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
They could under the terms of the Outer Space Treaty, but based on the country's response to other past claims of recovered Mir debris, it seems they are confident that all that survived the re-entry sank in the ocean.

Ronpur
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Posts: 557
From: Brandon, Fl
Registered: May 2012

posted 06-15-2013 06:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just don't see how that is possible?? But, it is amazing if it is true.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-16-2013 08:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Assuming the piece has not been mid-ID'd this could be a co-orbital component of MIR that was previously jettisoned or detached from the main mass but de-orbited prior to or subsequently after the station met its demise in the South Pacific.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-16-2013 08:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Okay, assuming that true, how would someone at NASA identify it as such? To the best of my knowledge, Mir didn't use materials otherwise not found in other spacecraft, and the photos and video of the "rock" appear to show no markings.

I'm attempting to contact the owner, in hopes of being put in touch with his sister's friend at NASA to learn exactly what led to the identification.

SpaceAholic
Member

Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-16-2013 10:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Technically feasible via mass spectrometry if samples (or reference signatures) are available from the original material (even though generically the same types of alloys may be used in fabrication of different spacecraft there is enough significant variance in impurities and ratio of constituent metals to permit an ID which can narrow down origin and application).

dfox
Member

Posts: 196
From: Scarsdale, NY, United States
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 06-16-2013 01:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dfox   Click Here to Email dfox     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Maybe the mass spec analysis showed residua of borscht and vodka?

Just kidding...

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-17-2013 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Some additional important details are added in this report from the Eagle-Tribune:
...a couple of weeks ago when he received a package in the mail from NASA containing his rock, a plaque and a letter from NASA Analysis Engineer George Leussis confirming that the rock had indeed fallen from space.

...The letter confirmed that while the rock originated on Earth, it had definitely been subjected to a fall from low Earth orbit, which was the reason for the rock's green color and strange properties.

"The material shows a composition similar to that used as ballast by the soviet space program starting in the mid 1980s," Leussis wrote. "This places its most likely origin as Mir, or one of the Progress-M class Russian resupply vehicles, that had undergone a TPS failure."

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-18-2013 03:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A new wrinkle, NASA's employee directory does not include a "George Leussis." There is record of someone by that name who worked as an engineer for Northrop Grumman in the Boston area, but attempts to contact him have gone unanswered (thus far).

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-24-2013 08:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jonathan McDowell (of Jonathan's Space Report) calls the whole story into question in a recent post to the SeeSat listserv.
I stopped by George's office today. He's pretty amused by the whole thing. He confirms that either it's a different George Leussis, or, more likely, it's a total fabrication. Our George is a hardware guy on the Chandra ground operations data team and doesn't have the described expertise, and has never heard of the individual described in the story or (until all his friends started emailing him this weekend) the dubious lump of green stuff. He doesn't know of any other George Leussis associated with NASA.

While it is just barely possible that there is another George Leussis at NASA, and that such a piece of vitreous material might have a composition that could let it be identified as space debris, I think it is more likely that the story is a complete fabrication...

Glint
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Posts: 827
From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 06-24-2013 11:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A posting on arrowheadology's blog site indicates that the George Leussis character works at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a grant from NASA.

The posting also notes that in Leussis' response to the finder, he stated that there was an 87% likelihood that the composition was consistent with ballast from "MIR, or one of the Progress-M class Russian resupply vehicles, that had undergone a TPS failure."

In other words the analysis was of the composition of the substance and not a judgement of its true origin.

In summary, the press was once again not doing its job. The only exception I see is that our own Robert started raising questions almost immediately.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 30714
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-24-2013 12:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The George Leussis who works at the (Harvard-)Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory [Center for Astrophysics] is the same George Leussis that Jonathan McDowell says (above) has had no involvement with analyzing Phil Green's found rock. So either it is a different Leussis or the letter is a fake.

I've been wanting to write an article about this — and still plan to — but so far my attempts to contact Mr. Green have been unsuccessful.

All times are CT (US)

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