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Disintegrating Soviet Rocket Lights Up Sky

December 14, 1987|From Associated Press

People from Montana to Mississippi reported vivid streaks of light in the night sky when a disintegrating rocket used to launch a Soviet satellite burned up in the atmosphere, putting on a fireworks show with "spectacular, beautiful colors," observers said Sunday.

Scores of startled people called police, the news media and air traffic controllers to report the phenomenon late Saturday.

The light show was caused by the re-entry of a Soviet rocket body that had been used to launch the Raduga 21 communications satellite on Thursday, said Maj. Alex Mondragon of the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Something re-entering like that can be mistaken for a missile coming in" but the space command knew it wasn't because it had tracked the object since launching, Mondragon said. The agency uses a network of radar, telescopes and sensors to track about 7,000 man-made objects in orbit, he said.

Seen Over Canada

Trackers spotted the falling rocket over the coast of western Canada and followed its southeastward course across the United States past the Florida Gulf Coast.

Mondragon said nobody had found any debris.

"I've never seen anything like it. It was spectacular, beautiful colors," said Paul Kellenbarger of Pea Ridge, Ark. "It looked like a helicopter, with red and green lights."

Sam Burrage, executive producer and anchorman at WPSD-TV in Paducah, Ky., said the station received 25 to 35 calls about blue and reddish-orange lights from viewers in western Kentucky, southeastern Missouri and northern Tennessee.

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