Chinese Space Station Falls Back to Earth

by Brittany Greve

A Chinese space station that has been on track to fall to Earth has finally crashed. Hailey Lara (‘21) said, “It’s kind of scary to think that it could happen, even though most of it gets destroyed in the atmosphere before it hits us.” The Tiangong-1 space lab reentered Earth’s atmosphere Monday morning, landing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. China’s Manned Space Agency re-assured everyone that, “most parts were burned up in the re-entry process.” Regardless of where experts believed it was going to land, there were many people who were still alarmed that such an event could occur. Victoria Andrews (‘20) said, “Even though I don’t know much about it, it’s so scary!”

Back in September 2011, the space lab that translates to “Heavenly Palace,” was launched into space. It was China’s first attempt at their goal of having a permanent space station by 2022. According to CNN, back in May 2017, the Chinese government told the United Nations that the space lab had “ceased functioning” in March 2016.

Since then, according to the Guardian, it was orbiting gradually closer and closer to Earth on its own while being monitored. Western space experts say they believe China lost control of the station. China’s chief space laboratory designer, Zhu Zongpeng, denied that Tiangong-1 was out of control, but has not provided specifics on what, if anything, China is doing to guide the craft’s re-entry.

The U.S. military’s 18 Space Control Squadron was predicting a re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. However, the Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell said any predictions would contain a considerable margin of error. “It was kind of a miracle that no one got hurt from it’s landing,” said Janique Goberdhan (‘18). Other students had the same outlook, with Trevor Hurst (‘19) stating that he “was happy that no one was harmed and that the debris landed in such a remote location.”

According to Leroy Chiao, a former U.S. astronaut who flew on four space missions, only about ten percent of the bus-sized, 8.5-ton spacecraft is likely to survive being burned up on re-entry; mainly its heavier components such as its engines. The chances of any one person being hit by debris are considered less than one in a trillion.

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