China Says ‘People Needn’t Worry’ About Out-of-Control Rocket Falling to Earth

A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. - China OUT (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese state media on Wednesday scrambled to reassure the rest of humanity there is no reason to fear the huge, out-of-control rocket the Chinese left tumbling around the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour last week, quoting “Chinese space analysts” who said the rocket will probably come down in the ocean, so it will likely not kill anyone or destroy anything.

China’s state-run Global Times offered no pretense that Chinese scientists have any control over the rapidly descending core section of the huge Long March-5B rocket, or took any precautions to predict where it might impact the Earth. The Global Times simply told people not to worry because the Earth is mostly covered with water, so the odds are good the debris will come down at sea.

“Wreckage from rocket launches falling back to Earth is common in the aerospace field, and the Pentagon’s reported claim that the rocket wreckage will fly back ‘out of control’ and “may cause damage if it hits inhabited areas” is nothing but Western hype of the ‘China threat’ in space technology advancement,” the Chinese state paper sneered.

The Global Times forgot to mention that Beijing’s previous launch of a Long March-5B rocket came very close to taking out an African village, and possibly an African city, or that these rockets are over twice the size of the objects generally considered safe to put into orbit.

“In all, it is another hyping of the so-called ‘China space threat’ adopted by some Western forces. It’s an old trick used by hostile powers every time they see technological breakthroughs in China, as they are nervous,” declared indignant “aerospace expert and TV commentator” Song Zhongping.

“As long as China stays open and transparent to the international society, such rumors will be naturally smashed to pieces,” Song added in a rather poorly-chosen turn of phrase.

The most amusing part of the Global Times apologia was Song telling everyone to forget about the 21 tons of dangerous debris China sent whirling around the Earth, and focus on the rocket’s use of “environmentally friendly fuel” that should not “cause water pollution if the debris falls into the ocean.”

Song claimed China’s “space monitoring network” will keep a close eye on the falling rocket and “take necessary measures if any damage would occur to passing ships,” but in reality the impact region will not be known with any precision until just hours before the debris comes down.

U.S. Space Command on Thursday updated its estimated landing date to Saturday, May 8, but the time and general location are still impossible to predict. 

Spaceflight experts generally agree that the risk of damage from falling rocket debris is small, since so much of the world is covered in water, the land in most areas is sparsely populated, and fast-moving objects tend to burn up in the atmosphere. 

Only a single person is known to have been struck by spaceflight debris, a then-48-year-old Oklahoma woman named Lottie Williams who was hit by a tiny fragment from a Delta II rocket while she was walking through a park in 1997. Williams was not injured by the impact, which she compared to someone tapping her on the shoulder.

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