Wayward Chinese space station splashes into Pacific Ocean

As Chinese space lab Tiangong-1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on Monday, burning up in the skies over the central region of the South Pacific, residents of the country bid the spacecraft a final farewell.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office said most of the space station's components were "ablated" during re-entry.

China had said its re-entry would occur in late 2017 but that process was delayed, leading some experts to suggest the space laboratory is out of control.

China launched the Tiangong-1, which means "Heavenly Palace 1" in English, in 2011 to conduct docking and orbiting experiments in preparation for the country's future permanent space station, scheduled to be built in 2023.

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The government, however, did not specify the reason. At 5:16 pm PDT on April 1 (April 2, 00:16 GMT), China's school bus-sized Tiangong-1 met a fiery end over the South Pacific, ending weeks of uncertainty as to when and where it would land. US -funded Aerospace Corporation confirmed that the space station reentered in the Pacific Ocean.

Reports of an out-of-control space station hurtling towards Earth may sound like a bad April Fools' prank.

About one month later after the launching of Tiangong-1, China sent Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft into orbit.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell explained to The Guardian that predicting where any could actually hit Earth's surface is next to impossible.

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Tiangong-1 was lofted on September 29, 2011, and had a projected two-year lifespan.

The space lab will mostly be burnt up in the atmosphere and it's highly unlikely to cause any damage on the ground.

According to current estimates, there are about 160 million pieces of space junk - 22,000 of which are bigger than 4 inches - floating around space uncontrolled. The single-module station measured some 34 feet (10.4 meters) long and had a diameter of approximately 11 feet (3.4 meters). Only one person has ever reported being hit by falling space debris of such incidents. "It had helped us accumulate precious experience in constructing space station", said Huang Weifen, Deputy Chief Designer of the Astronaut Center of China.

In June 2013, female astronaut Wang Yaping aboard Tiangong-1 delivered a lecture to students on Earth about physics, inspiring public enthusiasm for science and space exploration.

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And finally, a rain of whatever remained sprinkled the South Pacific, northwest of Tahiti and fairly close to Samoa.

  • Ryan Wade