The Justice Department has two attorneys ready to fly anywhere in the world to assess the damage from the soon-to-fall Skylab space station and Washington area emergency preparedness officials have their disaster relief plans ready on a round-the-clock basis.
But most of the world is taking man's latest impending calamity in a much more lighthearted manner. After all, the national space agency insists the odds against anyone's being hit by the falling debris are 152 to 1, so why not have a little summertime fun?
Australians have set up an elaborate lottery on where the biggest piece of Skylab will fall, while residents of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., have been invited to take cover under the London Bridge, which survived heavy World War II bombing and a move to Arizona in 1971.
Hard hats to shield one from the falling debris are being sold in New York. But Richard G. Bottorff, the acting director of the Mayor's Command Center in the District of Columbia, says there are no plans to evacuate anyone here, asking, "What area would we evauate them to?"
Nonetheless, National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said yesterday that if the giant space station comes down to earth one orbit later than now predicted it will pass over Washington or slightly to the west over Virginia.
The space agency's latest guess is that the 26 tons of Skylab debris will plummet into the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean about midday Wednesday.
But if the space station orbits the earth once more, it would pass over the Washington area about 1:15 to 1:20 Wednesday, although the Skylab breakup likely would not occur until it was over the Atlantic again.
Bottoriff said the Mayro's Command Center has been on 24-hour alert since Thursday, but will treat any falling debris in the city much like any other emergency. Police and fire trucks would be dispatched to the scene and other emergency workers would be sent as needed.
While the chance is remote that any Skylab parts will hit the city or its neighboring jurisdictions, Bottorff said that three or four space people - "some of them a little off the beaten path" have called on each of the last few days to voice their fears about the impending demise of the space station.
"Most are concerned citizens who don't have too much information," Bottorff said. "We try to limit a panic atmosphere."
Maryland and Virginia emergency preparedness officials have developed Skylab dissaster plans as well, on the of chance that part of the space station descends in either state.
Jeffrey Axelrad, director of the Justice Department's torts branch, said that if the falling Skylab causes any personal or property damage, one or more Justice attorneys specializing in settling claims against the government may be dispatched to the scene to assess the damage.
Axelrad said that the attorneys. Sandra Simon and Emelia DeMeo, will be ready to make "a pretty fast judgement" on what amount of damages the government will pay. He said NASA has the legal authority to make the damages payments and that the government does not expect any court battles over damage claims.
Despite the serious preparations for the demise of Skylab, a group of Cape Canaveral, Fla., residents perhaps win the award for the most practical solution to the falling debris problem: They built a giant baseball glove to catch the cascading metal, part of the community's 10th anniversary celebration on July 20 of man's first step on the moon.