China Rocket Down: Humanity and the Falling Sky
The year is 2021 AD; the new coronavirus entirely occupies Earth. Well, not entirely… One vast nation of earthlings, the original birthplace of the virus, holds out against the disease thanks to a magical potion of unknown origin.
While their neighbors fall by the thousands to the swarming stampede of new strains of the virus, the proud nation of earth-dwellers turns to the sky and the great universe beyond. The life-threatening pandemic has practically vanished from the mainland, with only a handful of cases reported daily.
Hence, the largest tellurian tribe plans to deploy pathfinders to the outskirts of their earthly realm and build a permanent settlement there. They will stop at nothing to achieve that goal before everyone else, even if that means the sky may fall on their heads tomorrow.
China Rocket Down
On April 29, China’s Long March 5B rocket, the Tianhe, carried the main module for building the first permanent space station. The installment launch was the first of 11 missions required to assemble the third generation of the Chinese space in orbit.
China used its most powerful rocket for this mission. The module consists of a cabin weighing 22.6 tons, 16.6 meters long, and 4.2 meters wide. But something went wrong during the launch.
The plan was to place the main module in orbit correctly; however, the first stage of the rocket, a cone 30 meters long, weighing 23 tons, didn’t detach and was left to wander around the planet on an increasingly declining orbit at a speed of about 28,000 kilometers per hour.
Hence, ominously, China’s 5B rocket became the chunkiest piece of space junk flying around over our heads. Object 48275 was left adrift and abandoned to the power of gravity that would eventually pull it back to Earth in great balls of fire. Thus, earthlings worldwide have kept their eyes on the sky, afraid to see it come crashing over their heads like in the books by Uderzo & Goscinny.
During the morning of Sunday, May 9, official reports from the Chinese Space Agency confirmed that the first stage of the rocket was down. According to the course and analysis, at 10:24 am, Beijing time, the 5B rocket re-entered the atmosphere and plunged somewhere in the Indian Ocean, south of India. Coordinates provided by Chinese authorities point to a location near the Maldives islands.
US’ 18th Space Control Squadron confirmed object 48275, the core stage from the Chang Zheng [Long March] 5B No. Y2 reentered over the Indian Ocean near the Maldives at about 0214 UTC on May 9. It’s unknown if the debris impacted land or water. USSPACECOM couldn’t disclose the location of the impact and the span of debris, both of which are unknown.
Spacefaring nations and aerospace companies need to operate under strict and transparent safety regulations to minimize environmental hazards and any risk to life on Earth. On this topic, as a citizen of Earth, I stand with NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson:
“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.
“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.
“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”
Recently we heard alarming reports about the long-term hazardous impact of spacefaring. Scientists all over the world have reported how SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites are messing up astronomical research as they cluster and grow in numbers to the point of showing up on telescope imagery as flocking human-made constellations.
Space junk is another ominous and pressing matter, and China’s 5B rocket incident is only the latest of a series of distressing events.
“No man is an island. What happens to one, happens to us all, for we are all made of clay and stardust. We share the same moments of time. The universal second hand starts its unforgiving sweep toward the next minute:”
― Sidney Sheldon, The Sky is Falling