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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 17, 1996


Reentry of Russian Mars Space Probe

Early this morning, the seven-ton Russian Mars Space Probe failed to exit earth orbit en route to Mars when booster rockets on its fourth stage misfired. Based on tracking data developed over the last sixteen hours, the U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) now estimates the spacecraft will reenter the Earth's atmosphere just after 8:00 P.M. (EST) tonight, with a predicted impact point in east-central Australia. This estimate will be refined as the spacecraft's orbit continues to decay and could be adjusted. However, the possibility of an impact on the United States is assessed by SPACECOM to be very low.

President Clinton has been in touch this afternoon with Australian Prime Minister Howard. Other nations along the orbit path are also being alerted and we have been in close contact with the government of Russia. The Vice President, the Chief of Staff and the National Security Council have also coordinated throughout the day with the appropriate domestic agencies, including FEMA, NASA and the Department of Energy.

SPACECOM believes the size of the probe is large enough to give pieces of it a chance of surviving reentry, though most of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere before impacting the earth. The spacecraft also carries onboard its Mars robotic landing vehicles four small radioactive plutonium-powered energy generators, or "batteries." Russian space authorities have informed NASA that these "batteries" will survive reentry and not break-up upon Earth impact. In short, Russian space authorities believe there is no danger of nuclear contamination. Nevertheless, in what is considered to be the extremely unlikely event that one or more of the batteries break open, the United States is prepared to offer all necessary assistance to any nation to deal with any resulting problems.

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