- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2018

What’s the status of Tiangong-1? The defunct Chinese space station weighs nine-tons and finally made its fiery, uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth atmosphere into the South Pacific; the BBC reported it came down northwest of Tahiti.

Tiangong-1 arrived back on the planet about 7:30 ET time. The news, though scanty in nature, generated dozens of reports from news organizations around the world.

“The reentry was confirmed as 2018/04/0200:16 ETC. Reentry occurred in the Pacific Ocean,” reported The Aerospace Corporation, a California-based research group which has been tracking the space craft, along with a dozen international space agencies for weeks.

The potential zone of reentry was huge, including a wide range of the planet above and below the equator, including highly populated urban areas in the U.S.

The Aeropspace Corporation previously had reassured the public that there is only a one-in-a-trillion chance that the anyone will be struck by falling space debris from the space craft, which is the size of a bus. The public, however, had been warned not to venture near any fallen debris, which could contain toxic materials and emit noxious fumes.

There’s another reason to leave the stuff alone. Space historian Robert Z. Pearlman told Live Science that collecting space debris souvenirs is essentially illegal.

“According to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a country’s spacecraft is their legal property until they say that it’s not their legal property. No matter where it lands — whether it lands in the ocean and sinks to the bottom of the sea, or whether it lands on their own land or some other country’s land — it belongs to that country of origin,” Mr. Pearlman said.

Tiangong-1 was launched by China in 2011 and hosted two successful missions with Chinese astronauts. The nation lost contact with the craft five years later and notified the United Nations that Tiangong-1 was destined for an uncontrolled re-entry to the atmosphere.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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