John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 1988 October 1
    These two pieces discuss the potential hazard of the decaying 
satellite Cosmos-1900. The episode reminded astronomers of the 1978 
case of Cosmos-954 that landed in or near Great Slave Lake in Canada. 
It was never recovered. The satellite's power supply with its uranium 
core, is buried deep in the permafrost near or under Great Slave Lake. 
The area, as at 2009, is still off limits to casual public access. 
    Cosmos-1900, like Cosmos-954, had an highly enriched uranium power 
pack that could break up during reentry and spread radioactive debris 
over wide swaths of the ground. 
    The alert from the US Space Command went to astronomers in hope 
that they may spot the falling craft as a meteor and record its path 
and aspect. The reports would help in the search and recovery work. 
    On 30 September 1988 the Soviets managed to eject the nuclear core 
into a higher orbit, out of immediate danger of reentry and avoiding 
the instant crisis. This occurred after the second article was sent to 
publication, on about 1988 September 20. The core will eventually 
decay and present its hazard in a future century. 
    The core is in a 681 x 746 kilometer, 66 degree inclination, 
orbit. These values are for October 2009 and will worsen slowly over 
the coming decades. The rest of the craft fell into destructive 
reentry within the same day. 
    The articles went thru minor editing. The issue date of this file 
is that of the later article. 
 1988 July 1
    A Russian satellite is in a rapidly decaying orbit and may burn up 
in the atmosphere in an August-September time window. A special alert 
was issued by the US Space Command, Colorado Springs CO, about this 
reentry because the satellite has a lethally radioactive power module 
    The probe, Cosmos-1900, derives its power from a thermoelectric 
vessel stuffed with about 50 kilograms of pure uranium-235. This 
isotope is so radioactive that a single speck of it can severely burn 
a human from 10 meters away. 
    As the craft breaks up in the descent the power module will spew 
out the uranium, and other radioactive parts, causing a colossal 
endangerment to everyone and everything all along its ground track.    
At present, it is utterly unknowable where the burn up will occur. 
This can not be determined until the final two or three orbits of the 
craft. Because Cosmos-1900 ranges between about 65 degrees north and 
south latitude, any populated area on Earth could be in jeopardy. 
    A previous Russian probe, Cosmos-954, fell in January 1978 in the 
Northwest Territories of Canada and spilled untold millions of 
radioactive fragments. By sheer good fortune these landed in the 
sparsely populated zone from Great Slave Lake to the Saskatchewan 
    A frantic and valiant search by the US and Canada was mounted to 
recover the debris under the codename Operation Morning Light. Altho 
many kilograms of uranium and radioactive pieces of the satellite were 
recovered, the  greater bulk of the uranium, in one or more big 
chunks, is still lost somewhere in or near Great Slave Lake. 
 1988 October 1 
    The errant spacecraft Cosmos-1900 continues to threaten Earth with 
a radioactive fallout from its eminent orbital decay. The craft, a 
Russian satellite for spying on US navy operations, has about 50 
kilograms of uranium-235 in its power module. This module could spray 
squillions of intensely radioactive particles over a broad swath of 
the Earth [EYEPIECE July 1988]. 
    According to the US Space Command, Colorado Springs CO, Cosmos-
1900 was placed into a roughly circular orbit, 260 kilometers up and 
65 degrees tilted from the equator, in December 1987. In April the 
thing went signal dead and the Soviets lost control of it. It is at 
the mercy of the winds and waves of the Earth's outer atmosphere. 
    The time and place of the probe's fall from orbit are not known at 
presstime. The USSC does guess that the fall will occur in late 
September or early October. But it will not speculate on the impact 
site, which is calculable only in the last three or four orbital laps. 
That is to say, potential victims on the ground could not be 
definitely warned until 4 to 6 hours before impact. 
    USSC is praying for a total vaporization of Cosmos-1900 as it 
burns up, thereby averting the mobilization of disaster and emergency 
agencies on the ground. This scenario, however, would place into the 
air the sort of global hazard caused by the aerial atom bomb tests in 
the 1950s. A far safer outcome is for the satellite to come down in 
several large solid chunks. These could be readily found and then 
handled as industrial radwaste, like the boxes of radium needles 
removed from a Queens medical lab a few months ago. 
    Positively the worst event is a repeat of Cosmos-954. That probe 
broke up over the Northwest Territories of Canada in January 1978. The 
debris was a siftdown of radioactive specks from the size of this "." 
to that of this "0" over an area about equal to the entire Northeast 
Corridor from Washington to Boston. 
    Atomic specialists from the US and Canada mounted an all-hands 
battle, called Operation Morning Light, to find and capture the 
specks. Amazingly, the arctic winter actually facilitated this mission 
by providing a white, hard, flat, uniform terrain whereon the 
particles were stabile, visible, and accessible. 
    When the spring melt arrived, operations became exponentially 
difficult and -- altho only a small part of the satellite's three-ton 
mass was accounted for -- Operation Morning Light was forced to shut 
down. To this day the bulk of Cosmos-954 lies somewhere in the 
southern tier of Northwest Territories. . 
    In terrain like that of the United States in autumn the particles 
will instantly amalgamate into the landscape. It is generally conceded 
that a search and recover campaign against a Cosmos-954 type of 
fallout over the Northeast Corridor would be essentially hopeless. 
Indeed, the entire region could throw over to a "Day After" syndrome. 
    Until the craft drops from orbit into the United States, USSC 
retains jurisdiction over it. After the impact, authority passes to 
the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mr Bill McAda of FEMA's 
Washington headquarters explained that state and local disaster 
response offices are already on standby alert for Cosmos-1900. 
    However, until a specific threat is realized they can not yet be 
triggered into action. Once the satellite lands, its threat will be 
treated like that from a nuclear accident from a missile or submarine 
base. The governor's offices in the effected states will activate 
their emergency broadcast networks and issue warnings and instructions 
to the citizenry. . 
    It goes without saying that on no cause must you approach any 
debris from the spaceprobe, much less take 1t home. A piece carried in 
your pocket could well trash up your biology for good. Report any 
debris to the local authorities in accordance to the emergency news 
announcements. Cooperate fully with them and obey any instructions 
they give you. 
    As astronomers we can be of immense value to any emergency 
response effort if we chance to observe the meteor-like burnup of 
Cosmos-1900. It will be a stupendous sight. After all, the probe is 
all of three tons in mass. 
    Record carefully the flight path 1n the sky, either against the 
stars or above landscape features; the color, brilliance, shape of the 
trail; any smokes, sparks, or fragments emitted from the main mass; 
vibrations felt or noises heard; the accurate date and time of the 
fall; and your own exact street location. Your report should be 
written down right after the observation and then called in to the US 
Space Command at 719-554-5816.