By Gurman Sidhu
On Apr. 29, 2021, China launched its Long March 5B rocket into the low orbit of earth from Wenchang, China. This rocket launch was a part of China’s mission to build its Tianhe Space Station. Unfortunately, a part of the rocket, a booster, detached and moved back towards earth without China having any control over it. This weekend, that rocket part landed in the Indian Ocean, just west of the Maldives.
For 10 days, the entire world was predicting where the Chinese rocket would land. Many were worried that the rocket could crash into an inhabited region. It was impossible to predict where the rocket would land due to its speed and the earth’s atmosphere dragging it down. Though, it was most likely that it would land in the ocean since the ocean covers about 71 percent of the earth’s surface.
This event kept many scientists and space agencies on their toes for over a week and has begun a conversation about the controversial topic of uncontrolled debris floating in space. Many highlighted that this was not the first time China has had uncontrolled space debris that headed towards earth. Last year, a different Long March 5B rocket part also landed on earth uncontrolled by the Chinese space agency. The rocket landed in the Atlantic Ocean near the West Coast of Africa, but some of its debris hit the mainland of the Ivory Coast, and no one was harmed, but several buildings were damaged.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University expressed that, “What’s bad is that it’s really negligent on China’s part. Things more than ten tonnes we don’t let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately.”
The Chinese rocket that crashed on earth this Sunday was 18 tonnes. This raises questions about countries like China and whether or not they are being safe when they launch rockets into space. Should the Chinese space agency be held responsible for this event? Will other countries punish China for the failure in their rockets that could’ve caused damage much worse than it did?
During a White House press conference, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “The United States is committed to addressing the risks of growing congestion due to space debris and growing activity in space and we want to work with the international community to promote leadership and responsible space behaviors.”
A reporter then asked Psaki, what would the United States do if China continued its reckless behavior in sending rockets into orbit. Psaki replied, “I think we’d, of course, refer to the advice and guidance from US Space Command and Department of Defense and others, but we’re not at this point. We’re certainly tracking its location through US Space Command, and hopefully, that’s not the outcome that we are working through.”
On Sunday, in a statement released on NASA’s website, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated that “Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.”
For more than a week, China kept the world waiting to see where their uncontrolled rocket booster would crash. China’s actions spread fear among people and had them wondering if the rocket would crash on land, and possibly hurt people. Many are beginning to recognize and discuss the patterns in China’s space program’s reckless behavior.
This event sparked fear of an increase in the hate and racism against Asian Americans for the Chinese government’s mishandling of the rocket. They have been facing increased racism and hate crimes since COVID-19 emerged from China.
Gurman Sidhu is a first-year Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior major at UC Davis from Union City, California.