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Great Job, China! A rocket chunk is careening back to Earth and no one's sure where it will land

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Bon voyage.
Bon voyage.
Photo: China Photos (Getty Images)

China managed two impressive feats last week: First, they successfully launched the first module of the nation’s new, badass-named Tiangong (“Celestial Palace”) space station aboard its Long March 5B rocket, marking a major milestone in human spacefaring for the country. Second, they accidentally sent a 30-meter-tall “massive core stage” of said Long March 5B rocket into a “chaotic reentry” towards Earth, and no one appears to have a goddamn clue exactly where it’s gonna land...

Okay, sorry, that’s irresponsibly alarmist and only somewhat accurate. To be more specificexperts have narrowed down the potential crash site for the 20-metric-ton hunk of flaming space debris to somewhere between the latitudes including New York state and New Zealand...


See? When you put it like that, it’s only marginally terrifying.

According to Andrew Jones of SpaceNews, the rocket’s core stage chunk is estimated to begin its reentry sometime around 9P.M. EST on May 9 (give or take, um, “41 hours” due to “many variables”), and will in all likelihood either burn up entirely, or plummet into one of humanity’s favorite refuse dumps: the ocean. If it makes you feel any better, China sent a core booster into a similar uncontrolled orbit almost exactly a year ago, with debris from that cock-up reportedly winding up strewn across villages in Cote d’Ivoire, thankfully with no injuries or deaths.


And before you get all haughty: we apparently do the same damn thing all the time. Only a few weeks ago, one of (sigh...upcoming SNL host) Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets made an uncontrolled reentry that gifted a quaint farm in Washington State a giant heavy pressure tank. And, as noted by Motherboard, “The United States holds the record for the largest uncontrolled reentry ever, which occurred in 1979 when the 79-ton Skylab station scattered debris across the Indian Ocean and Western Australia.”

So, yeah. If there’s one thing that seemingly unites all of humanity, it’s our eternal yearning to reach beyond the stars. That, and flinging gigantic rocket carcasses back towards our once pristine planet.

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