Space: The final frontier. Unless you’re China’s Tiangong-1 space station. In which case, your final frontier is about to be a crash landing on Earth.
This is China’s Tiangong-1 space station.
It means “Heavenly Palace.” And it’s a “showcase of [China’s] growing prowess in space.”
The Tiangong-1 launch in 2011 was a great moment for China’s budding space program. It came a mere four decades after Russia launched the first space station in 1971, and America launched its first space station in 1973. 1973 was also the year Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” became a Billboard Hit. Of course, in 1973 in China, no one was listening to bourgeois Western music. And the Communist Party’s idea of space exploration back then was sending all the scientists to the countryside to be re-educated.
So all the more reason why China’s 2011 launch of Tiangong-1 was such a big deal. The launch was broadcast on state-run CCTV, which also ran this computer animation during it. There’s something about that music that just makes me feel so patriotic. Because it’s “America the Beautiful.” Oops. Sounds like someone needs to be re-educated.
But anyway, Tiangong-1 is just the beginning for China. China spends roughly 2 billion dollars a year on its space program. That’s small potatoes compared to the 18 billion NASA spends. But China’s space ambitions are growing at a time when the US’s are shrinking.
But if China growing space program has you worried, let state-run media reassure you that it’s all for totally peaceful purposes.
…even though it’s essentially run by the Chinese military. In fact, in December, the Chinese military created the Strategic Support Forces to oversee—you guessed it—space warfare.
China has been developing and testing systems that could disable US satellites. Hey, this is serious. Without satellite-based GPS, how will you be able to find a good Italian place on Yelp?
In fact, Lieutenant General David Buck recently testified before US Congress, saying, “There isn’t a single aspect of our space architecture, to include the ground architecture, that isn’t at risk.”
Yes, that’s just wonderful. But back to Tiangong-1, which at least does not appear to have been weaponized. It’s been hanging out 200 miles above the Earth for 5 years now, collecting data, docking with space modules, and saving Sandra Bullock. Then in March, state-run Xinhua News announced that Tiangong-1 had completed its missions, and “will descend gradually in the coming months” back down to earth. Yes, descend gradually like a gently falling autumn leaf.
Of course, hostile anti-China forces, i.e. reporters, did their own investigations. And it appears the situation might be a bit more serious than that. As the Daily Mail wrote in July, it will “explode through Earth’s atmosphere raining molten metal.”
Well, that’s the Daily Mail. What do you expect? In fact, they later changed the headline of that article, presumably to cover up how exaggerated their original statement was.
But state-run Xinhua News has now also changed its tone on the whole “gradual descent” thing, presumably to cover up how under-exaggerated their original statement was. According to this more recent Xinhua article, Tiangong-1 has “comprehensively fulfilled its historical mission” and “most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling.”
Wait, “most parts” will burn up during falling”? What about the other parts? I feel like Xinhua is still trying to spin this as not a big deal.
According to The Guardian, China has lost control of the Tiangong-1, and it will crash back down to Earth at some unknown time in 2017. And there will be “lumps of about 100kg”—or 220 pounds—that don’t burn up in the atmosphere. So basically, cannonballs traveling at 50 times the speed of sound, landing somewhere that’s impossible to predict, on an unknown date. “Uh, Beijing, we have a problem.”
The good news is, most of the Earth is water, and it’s unlikely that pieces of Tiangong-1 will hit populated areas. But as we all know, the best way to solve a problem is to hide it for as long as possible, and then when the truth comes out, spin it as not a big deal.
Fortunately, after Tiangong-1, this kind of thing will probably never happen again. Umm…probably.
So what do you think of China’s space program? Leave your comments below.