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NASA criticizes China’s handling of rocket re-entry as debris lands near Maldives

By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- NASA has lambasted China for its failure to "meet responsible standards" after debris from its out-of-control rocket likely plunged into the Indian Ocean Saturday night.

"Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," said NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson in a statement released on the space agency's website Sunday.

"China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris," he added.

Most of the huge Long March 5B rocket, however, burned up on reentering the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a post on WeChat, before landing just west of the Maldives.

It was unclear if any debris had landed on the atoll nation.

The US Space Command said the Long March 5B had reentered Earth over the Arabian Peninsula.

The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth's gravity dragged it back to the ground.

Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University.

In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land.

The European Space Agency had predicted a "risk zone" that encompassed "any portion of Earth's surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude" — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe's Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth's surface area is consumed by oceans, so the odds of avoiding a catastrophic run-in were slim.

The rocket is one of the largest objects in recent memory to strike the Earth after falling out of orbit, following a 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space lab broke up over the Pacific Ocean and the 2020 reentry of an 18-metric-ton Long March 5B rocket.

Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth's orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of uncontrolled junk, most of which are smaller than 10 centimeters.

Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, though most pieces burn up in the Earth's atmosphere before having a chance to make an impact on the surface. But parts of larger objects, like the Long March rocket in this instance, can survive reentry and threaten structures and people on the ground.

"Norms have been established," McDowell said.

"There's no international law or rule — nothing specific — but the practice of countries around the world has been: 'Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let's not leave our trash in orbit in this way.'"

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Comments

19 Comments

  1. China is a rogue nation with no real moral or ethical compass. President Trump called them to task- to address their unacceptable behaviors- all awhile Joe Biden was getting jobs for his meth head kid Hunter and undermining Trump’s concerns. Amerikans have chosen to ignore President Trump’s advice on dealing with China- and this is what you get- krap falling out of the sky and a global pandemic. Feel free to thank an anti-American Biden supporter for your anxiety… and trust me… there’s more to come !

      1. DJT: “Just had a long and very good conversation with president Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the coronavirus. He feels they are doing very, even building hospitals in a matter of only days. Nothing is easy, but he will be successful. We are working closely with China to help.” LMAO!!! Sooooouch losing Karen!!!! He really schooled those evil nasty Chinese!!!! Too funny!!! LOL!!?

    1. Blah, blah, blah……….whine, whine, whine…………losing, losing, losing……..zzzzzzzz…….nap time sweetie!!! It’s ok Karen! Rotflmao!!!

    2. If you weren’t such a brainless moron you might be funny. “Called them to task”. That’s hilarious. Do you require drugs to hang on to these delusions? Wake up in the morning and run headfirst into the wall a few times?

    3. Not only do we get COVID and space litter…
      China’s Emissions Now Exceed All the Developed World’s Combined!
      No regard for anyone or anything. Immoral and unethical. But Joe says they’re not bad. I agree, much more to come.

  2. 80 tons of space debris in orbit–most of it of U.S. and European origin–yet when a tiny portion of it that is Chinese falls back on to the planet, our racist friends suddenly indulge in hackle raising.

    No one mounted a hate-filled campaign against NASA in 1978 during the Sky Lab uncontrolled reentry–and that one actually landed on solid ground.

    1. Only the most brainwashed & mentally deficient individual throws the racism card when there is none. Also great example of sky lab from 1978, 43 years later and the Chi Coms still cannot get it right.

  3. Space junk falls out of the skies all the time.

    Just had similar burn through the night over Sisters / Redmond a month ago (remember?).

    We’ve done business w Red China FOREVER. Especially after reapproachment under Dick Nixon.

  4. You would think that if people are smart enough to get this crap into space they would be smart enough to get it back out of space in a safe manner. Not just wishing and hoping it lands in one of the oceans. I’m thinking there needs to be some laws governing this type of behavior. But hey who am I but just some dumb welder I’m not as smart as all these physicists and governments that can’t control a rocket that is plummeting back to earth. Makes me feel real safe.

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