The attempt to “shoot down” (actually to impact and shatter) a deorbiting U.S. satellite is reminiscent of the return of a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite, Cosmos 954, in 1978.
The Cosmos had retained its reactor core, presenting a clear and present danger as it hurtled toward the atmosphere. On January 24 it re-entered on a southwest-northeast track that displayed a fiery trail from Hawaii to the western hemisphere.
It was nighttime in the Northwest Territories of Canada when it came in, visible from Yellowknife, Snowdrift, and beyond. Yellowknife resident Marie Ruman recalled, “I could see dozens of parts…each had a long bright tail…”
Pretty, but potentially deadly. The returning missive spread a 370-mile-long path of radioactivity from Great Slave Lake on up to the Thelon Wilderness.
Six campers adventuring near the Arctic Circle came across some of the remnants not knowing what they were but subsequently got clean bills of health from radiation health experts.
The joint U.S.-Canadian effort to find the cosmos pieces was named Operation Morning Light.
A few pieces were eventually found. For the effort the Canadian government billed the Soviet Union for $6,041,174.70 plus additional compensation for unpredictable expense. The Soviets eventually paid $3 million.
A few people will be reminded of Cosmos 954 when the U.S. Navy tries to intercept the current wayward orbiter.