It’s going down, I’m yelling timberrrr! Some unnerving news has surfaced out of the panda capital of the world. China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, is hurtling towards Earth. Translated as Heavenly Palace, the lab served as a political symbol of China’s growing economic might. Unfortunately for us, the falling space station is pretty mighty in itself; tipping the scales at an astounding 8.5 metric tons.
The fall from grace will occur sometime in the second half of 2017. However, where it lands is anyone’s guess. When launched in 2011, it was part of China’s ambitious mission to become a space superpower. Ironically, the world now needs a hero with superpowers to save us. Where is Superman when you need him? Hell, we’ll even settle for Jackie Chan right about now.
Out of This World
The Heavenly Palace is set to have an earthly encounter in the upcoming Year of The Rooster. After months of speculation, the announcement seems to confirm that China has lost control of the 10 meter long lab. It seems unlikely that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney can help us with this one.
China claims that most of the falling space station will burn up in the atmosphere. However, since it is not a controlled re-entry, no one is certain where the remaining pieces will land. Even the smallest nudge in the atmosphere could change the landing site from one continent to another. It gives new meaning to the term Panda Express.
Despite China’s reassurances, some dense parts of the falling space station, such as the rocket engines wouldn’t completely burn up. Up to 150-pound debris will still make it to ground level. This will surely cause damage to houses, cars, and any unfortunate souls in the way. You’ll need more than an umbrella to escape this aluminum shower.
If the debris comes down on a densely populated area, the consequences will be devastating. Space enthusiastics have been tracking the orbit of Tiangong-1 like white on rice and assessing potential risk. Encouragingly, as 70% of the globe is made up of water, they say it is likely any potential debris will land in the ocean or on an uninhabited island.
2020: A Space Odyssey
The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) is keen on keeping its head in the clouds; the agency has already given the go-ahead to putting up another space station in 2020. Tiangong Space Station will stay in low earth orbit and be similar in size to the Russian Mir Space Station.
Here’s to hoping China outsources the building of the space station to more capable hands. Much like their space station, we hope CNSA’s ambitions come back down to earth. In the end, like Chinese takeout, it might’ve seemed like a good idea at first, but the end results may not be so pretty.