8 surprising hunks of space gear that returned to Earth

NASA and others have had their share of spacecraft parts fall back to Earth

Now that NASA's 6.5 ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) has scattered itself across the Pacific Ocean, we thought we'd take a look at some of the other large pieces of space equipment that has returned to Earth rather unexpectedly. As a bonus we give you two items that happily were expected to return as well.

NASA says this shot is the main propellant tank of the second stage of a Delta 2 launch vehicle which landed near Georgetown, Texas, on Jan. 22 1997. This approximately 250 kg tank is primarily a stainless steel structure and survived reentry relatively intact.

On Jan. 21 2001, a Delta 2 third stage, known as a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module - Delta), reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East. The titanium motor casing of the PAM-D, weighing about 70 kg, landed in Saudi Arabia about 240 km from the capital of Riyadh, NASA said.

According to NASA this shot shows a 30 kg titanium pressurant tank survived the reentry of the Delta 2 second stage on Jan. 1997.

Tragically on Feb. 1, 2003, all seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia were killed when the craft disintegrated over Texas during re-entry. According to Space.com, more than 80,000 recovered pieces were stored for follow-up research.

The decommissioned Skylab space station left a large debris field across Australia and in the Indian Ocean when it came down in 1979.

Russian space station Mir left one of the largest debris field of any system that has crashed to Earth, though mostly in the Pacific Ocean. It came down March 23, 2001.

On Jan. 24, 1978 Canada had a nuclear radiation crisis when the Soviet Union's Cosmos 954 satellite, which was powered by a nuclear reactor crashed in a northwestern part of the country. At the time the Soviets said the reactor contained about 30 kg of enriched uranium.

Another Soviet-era spaceship that left a huge impression was the Salyut-7 space station which came down  in Capitán Bermúdez, Argentina in 1919 and amazingly didn’t hurt anyone.

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa's high-speed, fiery return to Earth brought with it  a hunk of the asteroid Itokawa.  Hayabusa landed in an unpopulated area of Australia on June 13, 2010.

NASA's Stardust spacecraft had a capsule that had what the space agency called an aerogel-lined collector that extended from the craft to gather particles of the Wild 2 comet. The capsule and its collected comet pieces returned to Earth Jan. 15, 2006, landing in Utah.

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