Key parts of the downed Soviet spy satellite may have fallen to earth intact - a potential intelligence bonanza for U.S. and Canadian experts.
Gary Anderson, 30, a member of the group of outdoor adventurers camped for the winter near the point where part of the Cosmos 954 fell a week ago, said yesterday that two companions saw "three copper-colored struts" and a cylindrical piece of metal sticking through the ice where the fragment fell.
Officials said the sighting seemed to refute earlier indications that the satellite melted or disintegrated when it plunged out of control into the earth's atmosphere.
The area where the five Americans and one Canadian were camped is known as Warden's Grove, a one-hut fishing camp about 400 miles northeast of Yellowknife near the Arctic Circle, Canadian authorities dropped four armed paratroopers into the site after the six campers where evacuated Sunday for tests for possible radioactivity contamination.
Spokesman for the U.S. and Canadian scientific and military teams, which are jointly conducting the search for the satellite fragments, said that no decision has been made on what to do with the Warden's Grove find. The pieces of the satellite are apparently embedded in ice on a three-foot-deep section of the Thelon River.
"I can't say we wouldn't be sending someone from intelligence up there. I think intelligence is a ractor in this situation," a spokesman for Canadian Defense Minister Barnett Danson said in Ottawa.
[Anything the United States can recover of the satellite is of value, according to intelligence sources in Washington.]
Cosmos 954 is a new Soviet satellite, launched Sept. 18 to locate U.S. warships and presumably built with tha newest Soviet technology and metalurgy.
The United States recovered pieces of a heat shield from a Soviet reconnaissance satellite that fell on southern Africa 10 years ago. It proved helpful to experts piecing together the satellite's size. Parts of another Soviet satellite, recovered in Michigan, told U.S. experts about the state of Soviet rocket technology five years ago.
Of particular interest to U.S. intelligence is the radar and electronics machinery aboard Cosmos 954, which was powered by a potent 100 kilowatt nuclear generator. Whether the satellite's radar was powerful enough to search out surfacing or partly submerged nuclear submarines is of paramount interest.
Mahlon E. Gates, a U.S. Department of Energy official now in Edmonton south of here, said yesterday that helicopter-borned searchers also located two other areas of high radiation that Mahlon said are probably parts of the satellite's nuclear core.
The Cosmos 954 was a three-sectioned, 45-foot-long satellite launched Sept. 18. Its nuclear reactor, U.S. sources said, contained approximately 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium.
Gates said the two radioactive "hits" were both located near the northeast end of Great Slave Lake near the tiny fur trading settlement of Fort Reliance.
Portions of the lake in that area are 1,000 feet deep, officials said, and it is not known if the reactor fragments are under water embedded in the ice or lying on the surface of the frozen lake.
It is becoming more evident that the searchers' interest in possible radioactive danger from the satellite fragments is dropping because of their isolated location. Authorities have estimated that only 13 persons were present in the 600-square-mile area believed to be the satellites' reentry path over the Canadian Northwest Territory.
Search officials expanded the area of airborne radiation detection surveys to include several hundred additional square miles south and west of the Great Slave Lake.
Despite an effort at maintaining a low profile, the U.S. presence here has reached substantial proportions both in equipment and scientific manpower. Scientists specializing in satellite reentry dynamics arrived yesterday from Sandia Labs and the Aerospace Corp., both Department of Energy contractors, and from Lawrence Livermore, Laboratories in Berkeley. More than 120 persons from the United States have been involved in the search so far, officials said.
The six campers who were at the Warden's Grove site were identified as: Gary Anderson, 30, of Rock Island, Ill.; Chris Norment, 26, of Las Vegas; Kurt Mitchell, 28, of Jackson, Wyo.; John Mordhorst, 28, of Rock Island; Michael Mobley, 26, of Mesa, Ariz., and Robert Common, 33, of St. Anne de Bellevue, Canada.
They told reporters they were attempting a 15-month canoe trip across the Canadian Arctic wilderness. The group has camped since August at Warden's Grove.
The site is where three adventurers including Englishment John Hornby died of starvation in 1927 while exploring the Canadian wilderness. The U.S. and Canadian campers said they were attempting to follow Hornby's Route.
Two members of the camping group found the satellite fragment Saturday about 8 miles from Warden's Grove. They described the impact site as a 9-by-6-foot blackened depression in the ice of the Thelon River.
The two touched the exposed metal portions of the satellite fragment briefly and authorities said they got some radiation on their gloves. None of the six was reported seriously contaminated after examination by doctors.
The campers radioed news of their find to Canadian authorities in Yellowknife and were told to stay away from the satellite fragment. A radiation decontamination team and nuclear medicine specialists were flown to the Warden's Grove site Sunday and the campers were evacuated.