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Skylab's Orbit Crosses Boston Area Tomorrow

By Gary G. Curtis

The Skylab space station may be visible in the Boston area right before dawn on July 11, the predicted day of its re-entry, a spokesman for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said yesterday.

"At 5:09 on Wednesday, 'Chicken Little Day,' Skylab will probably be 38 degrees above the southeast horizon, drifting southwest to east," Bill Waller, the spokesman, said.

A Las Vegas oddsmaker made his own odds for the fall. "I'm giving 50-to-1 that it will land in Massachusetts. And New York and California are both set at 35-to-1," Jackie Gaughan of the EI Cortez Hotel said yesterday. "One man bet $500 on Wisconsin at 40-to-1. I'm predicting that on July 11 at 11 a.m. EDT, it will hit the Pacific Ocean."

National Aeronautics and Science Agency (NASA) officials have pinpointed Skylab's entry into the earth's atmosphere at 10:28 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The calculation is a midway point and it can fall 15 hours on either side of 10:28 a.m.

The Center for Astrophysics is serving as a clearinghouse gathering information from the North American Air Defense and NASA.

"We get information from the North American Air Defense, which tracks orbital elements. We stuff that info into our computer programs," Waller said. "Then we make passage predictions, and NASA predicts when it will crash."

The 77-ton spacecraft will break up into approximately 500 pieces, with most weighing less than ten pounds, NASA officials said. However, the air lock shroud weighs 3900 pounds and the lead film safe weighs 5100 pounds. Both objects are likely to strike the earth at speeds greater than 260 miles per hour.

The decaying "garbage can" is expected to spread this space debris into a zone 4000 miles long and 100 miles wide.

"It's orbiting the earth once every 88 minutes and its apogee is 119 miles," Waller added.

NASA officials predict that the chances of Skylab hitting one specific individual is one in 600 billion. To hit someone, somewhere, the odds are one in 152.

David Akin, an MIT research assistant at Space Lab Systems, said yesterday he thinks it will land in the Atlantic Ocean. He added, "I think it's a crying shame that it has to come down before scheduled. Solar flares expanded the atmosphere and the air molecules accelerated Skylab's descent. It shows that we don't know everything about the sun."

Some are less optimistic. "I doubt if any of the pieces will fall on me but I plan on staying in when it is about to re-enter," Johg Rho, a Summer School student, said yesterday.

Many insurance companies are preparing special policies to cover possible Skylab damage.

"In theory concerning the underwriting of Skylab, claims will bebased on information the policy holder gives us," an employee of the Prudential Life Insurance casualty and property division said. "If Skylab destroys property a policy holder files a claim. Writing up policies to cover events like Skylab was unimaginable, but that probably is all going to change now."

Skylab reports are available at the Center for Astrophysics at 491-1497.

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