Space junk disaster narrowly averted
Published Saturday, February 14, 2009 2:07PM MST
They may not have known it, but there was concern that residents of Southern Alberta were at risk from falling space debris for about an hour Friday morning.
Around 10:30 a.m., the Alberta government was contacted by the federal government warning that space debris was headed for Alberta. The federal government was notified by NORAD.
Initially, the information indicated the space debris was headed for Calgary. More specific information was received a short time later indicating the debris was actually heading for an area 110 kilometres east of Calgary. The area in concern included the communities of Strathmore, Brooks, Hanna, Drumheller and Vulcan.
Jody Korchinski, Director of Communications for Alberta Municipal Affairs, tells CTV News the province was just about to activate the government's Emergency Response Centre and send out a notification to warn the affected areas, when they received word that the debris had changed course when it entered the atmosphere and ended up falling into the Atlantic Ocean.
Colin Lloyd, Director of Alberta Emergency Management Agency, tells CTV News that the estimated time of contact was at 10:46 a.m.
"So we really had only sixteen minutes to get things in place."
Lloyd says time was of the essence.
"We really did need to get the message out so that people would at least know what to look for, and to be aware of it, and to be able to take cover."
When asked what would have happened if it had made contact with the earth, Lloyd said, "Well, clearly the first scenario was extremely serious if it had come down in the centre of Calgary for example, but if open land, we would have gone into that response mode."
NORAD spokesperson, Lt(N) Desmond James made the following statement to CTV News:
"On 13 Feb, North American Aerospace Command tracked the re-entry of a rocket body at approximately noon EST following the launch of a Russian rocket that resupplied the International Space Station. The object, 10-square meters in size, skipped off the atmosphere and re-entered off the southern coast of Africa. NORAD followed prescribed assessment procedures during the reentry and officials from the command deemed it not a threat to populated land areas in North America. NORAD does not have any further details on the reentry."
The Saskatchewan and B.C. governments were also made aware of the close call.
The notification from Alberta Municipal Affairs would have warned the public not to touch any debris on the ground because it could have been radioactive.