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Pieces of Spy Satellite Falling Back to Earth, U.S. Says

March 20, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pieces of a spy satellite put into orbit over the Soviet Union by the space shuttle last month are falling back to Earth and burning up as they pass through the atmosphere, the Defense Department indicated Tuesday.

″Two of the items have already entered the Earth’s atmosphere,″ said spokesman Pete Williams. ″The remainder are expected to decay within two to seven weeks.″

Williams did not identify the items as a satellite but said they were ″associated with″ last month’s secret mission of the space shuttle Atlantis. NASA sources have said astronauts aboard Atlantis put a sophisticated $500 million spy satellite into an orbit that carried it over much of the Soviet Union.

The Defense Department said one piece burned up on reentry on March 15, but it did not say where. A second piece made its fiery dive over the Gulf of Alaska on March 19.

There were reports from the Soviets last week that the satellite had broken into four big pieces, which were being tracked by radar.

The Defense Department acknowledged then that some debris from the shuttle mission would be coming back to Earth. U.S. officials would not confirm the specifics of the Soviet reports, saying merely that the Atlantis mission ″has achieved its goal.″

″On the average one to two items in space from the hundreds of space launches each year reenter the atmosphere each day,″ Williams said Tuesday. He refused to answer more questions.

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