Mars '96 probably fell on Chile and Bolivia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(January 24, 1997) New facts have been discovered on the failed Russian Mars mission containing 200 grams of plutonium. It was reported that the probe had fallen into the South Pacific near Australia on November 17 (see WISE NC 462.4588). However, according to an article in the U.S. newspaper Boston Globe on December 4, the Mars '96 might have already broken up in the atmosphere and rained down on Chile and southern Bolivia on November 16.

(465.4625) WISE-Amsterdam -First, it was thought that Mars '96 would crash in Australia. But after the object fell into the ocean, Russian officials said it was the booster rocket. The spacecraft would have crashed earlier.

U.S. Space Command, the agency responsible for tracking objects in orbit, waited until November 27 to confirm that pieces might have fallen on Chile and southern Bolivia. Critics said US Space Command should have informed the two nations earlier. According to a White House spokesman, it took 11 days when the evidence was clear enough to take measures. James Oberg, an aerospace engineer and specialist in Russian missions, said that preliminary information should have been sent to South American governments even if the analysis were not complete. According to his research, it was immediately clear from the Russian space agency's internet-site that parts of South America were in the potential pathway for debris.

The possibility that parts of the probe fell on South America is supported by eyewitnesses. John van der Brink, an Australian electronics specialist retired from the European Southern Observatory, and his wife were in the mountains of northern Chile to watch for meteors on November 16. They saw an object moving slowly across the sky, unlike normal meteors. "I had no illusions it was anything else than a piece of space debris," he said. Reconstructing the sighting later, he estimated its trajectory as just the same as the U.S. Space Command's predicted pathway. A family traveling in northern Chile saw the fireball at the same time. They described it as a comet-like meteorite breaking apart and changing colors as it fell.

Sources: The Boston Globe (US), 4 & 5 December 1996
Contact: The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power In Space, P.O. Box 90035, Gainesville, Florida 32607, USA.
Tel: +1-352-468-3295