The out-of-control Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, finally re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday, April 1, at around 8:16 p.m. EDT (0016 April 2 GMT). The Tiangong-1 almost burnt up in the sky over the southern Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC) confirmed the space station’s re-entry in an official statement that read, “The JFSCC used the Space Surveillance Network sensors and their orbital analysis system to confirm Tiangong-1’s re-entry.”
The city bus-sized craft burnt up and broke into small pieces. But, thankfully, the disintegrated debris that survived the fall were likely small and relatively harmless. Experts have warned that if someone manages to find a chunk of Tiangong-1, he or she should not pick it up or breathe in any fumes coming out from it as the space junk may be contaminated with the toxic rocket fuel, hydrazine.
China had launched its first ever crewed space station Tiangong-1, or the “Heavenly Place,” in 2011. Two astronaut teams visited the vehicle during its time in orbit, including China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang.
The 18,000-pound (8.5 metric tons) spacecraft was meant to work for two years and then cease operation in 2013, but the space agency decided to extend its lifespan for a couple of years. Back in 2016, China’s CNSA confirmed that they were unable to make any contact with Tiangong-1 as they have lost its control completely. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee including NASA, the European Space Agency and space agencies of 11 other nations, monitored the fall of Tiangong-1.
Tiangong-1 does not hold the title of the biggest spacecraft to fall from the sky. That title goes to the Soviet/Russian space station Mir that that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001. The space station weighed around 140-ton (127 metric tons). Mir was guided to a controlled destruction over the Pacific Ocean in March 2001.