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NASA satellite falls to Earth after nearly 40 years in orbit

The 5,400-pound satellite reentered our atmosphere Sunday night.

After nearly 40 years in space, a NASA satellite just fell from the sky. 

The space agency confirmed Monday that the 5,400-pound satellite reentered the Earth's atmosphere Sunday night, just after 11 p.m. EST. There's no need to worry about space debris in your backyard — the Department of Defense says it entered the atmosphere off the coast of Alaska.

NASA expected most of the satellite to burn up during reentry, but some pieces were likely to survive. Researchers put the odds of injury from falling debris at about 1 in 9,400. It wasn't immediately clear Monday whether any pieces had survived reentry.

The Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, known as ERBS, was launched in 1984 aboard space shuttle Challenger. Its purpose was to study how the Earth absorbed and radiated energy from the sun, helping scientists understand weather patterns and climate health. It also measured parts of the atmosphere, like ozone — a compound in the stratosphere that protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation. 

ERBS far exceeded its expected working lifetime of two years, operating for more than 20 years until its retirement in 2005. 

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The satellite got a special sendoff from Challenger. America's first woman in space, Sally Ride, released the satellite into orbit using the shuttle's robot arm. That same mission also featured the first spacewalk by a U.S. woman: Kathryn Sullivan. It was the first time two female astronauts flew in space together.

It was the second and final spaceflight for Ride, who died in 2012.

The Associated Press's Marcia Dunn contributed to this report. 

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