Recently, the Western media collectively hyped the “China Long March 5B rocket wreckage threat” and tried to exaggerate the so-called “Chinese out-of-control rocket wreckage” as “irresponsible”, but deliberately avoided the massive amount of space junk that the United States has continuously produced over the years and their out-of-control reentry. The global panic caused by the atmosphere. Even more ironically, looking back at history, the space debris in the United States that has returned to the atmosphere out of control is inseparable from the “bureaucracy” and “irresponsibility” of NASA.
Sky Lab: Landing out of control makes the world panic
When the Western media hyped the “threat of the wreckage of China’s Long March 5B rocket,” they repeatedly mentioned that “this is the largest uncontrolled reentry into the atmosphere after the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station”. This sentence has “blacked” China and Russia one after another. However, what the Western media avoids talking about is that the second largest man-made object that has returned to the atmosphere out of control so far is the US Sky Lab. The reason why this giant space station weighing 80 tons fell out of control is the result of NASA’s bureaucracy and information concealment.
A bad start to space
Skylab is the only orbital space station built entirely by the United States. After the manned lunar landing project defeated the Soviet Union, the United States used the remaining resources of the “Apollo” lunar landing program to send the Skylab into space by the “Saturn 5” rocket on May 14, 1973.
63 seconds after the rocket lifted off, the protective cover of the sky laboratory and a solar panel were washed away by the high-speed airflow. After entering the orbit, it was in direct sunlight, the temperature in the cabin rose sharply to 50 degrees Celsius, and many equipment could not work due to insufficient power supply and high temperature. Ten days later, the “Apollo” spacecraft carried the first batch of three astronauts to dock with the sky laboratory, and their main mission became “space repair.” After the astronauts took several space walks in several days and carried out high-intensity repair work, the sky laboratory barely returned to normal operation.
Intentional or unintentional negligence
However, the Sky Lab was developed using the remaining resources of the “Apollo” moon landing program. When the third and last batch of American astronauts left the sky laboratory on February 8, 1974, NASA’s research and development focus had shifted to the space shuttle. Due to the exhaustion of operating funds, the Sky Lab can only fly unmanned in orbit alone.
NASA was optimistic that the Skylab could be in orbit until 1983, and the space shuttle was scheduled to fly for the first time in 1979. Before the sky laboratory fell, a new group of astronauts could take the space shuttle to start new work. However, the subsequent development was beyond NASA’s expectations: in the late 1970s, solar activity increased, the earth’s atmosphere was heated and expanded and expanded, and the atmospheric resistance of the sky laboratory increased sharply, causing its orbit to rapidly decay.
The first to notice the anomaly was the US Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. In 1976, the agency issued a revised report on solar activity, stating that the Sky Lab could only last until 1980 at most.
But NASA remained unmoved and still believed that the space shuttle project could save the sky laboratory in time. This statement was later questioned by many, because the progress of the space shuttle was already seriously lagging behind. There are also speculations that NASA was reporting a new annual budget at the time. If it admits that the Sky Lab may fall, the relevant budget will be rejected by Congress.
At the end of 1977, the U.S. military also discovered something was wrong. The North American Air Defense Command, which is in charge of space monitoring, observed the orbit of the Sky Lab and found that the Sky Lab’s posture in space “as if a man riding a bicycle in a headwind has raised his waist”, and the atmospheric resistance received is greater than previously expected. The time of falling into the atmosphere was brought forward to mid-1979.
In December 1978, NASA finally compromised, because the actual situation showed that the space shuttle could not complete its first flight in 1979, let alone save the sky laboratory. In fact, the first flight of the space shuttle was postponed until 1981. But NASA’s awakening is too late. At that time, there was no technical means to stop the downward trend of the Sky Lab.
The Western media was also unhelpful at this time. When an out-of-control Soviet satellite fell into the atmosphere in January 1978, the wreckage was scattered across Canada. Western public opinion took the opportunity to severely criticize the Soviet Union’s “threat of space debris.” The heat of this matter has not yet dissipated. Now the Sky Lab is large and robust. NASA estimates that it will not be completely burned when it falls into the atmosphere. If the wreckage falls into densely populated areas and causes casualties, NASA will face an unprecedented crisis of trust.
Sure enough, the news that the Sky Lab was about to fall quickly became the headlines of various countries’ attention. Many businessmen took the opportunity to sell various “peripheral products”, such as T-shirts with bullseye patterns, “sky laboratory protective helmets”, etc., to mock NASA’s inability to accurately predict the location of the fall. San Francisco newspapers also offered a reward of $10,000, looking for the first person to find the wreckage of the Sky Lab.
As NASA has been unable to determine the exact date of the Skylab’s fall, the outside world has increasingly distrusted the statement that “the probability of hitting humans by space debris is extremely low.” In particular, NASA admits that the debris of the Skylab may fall into most areas of the world, and “special rescue teams are ready to set off at any time.” This warning caused a large-scale panic in the Philippines, and then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos had to give a televised speech to appease the public.
There are considerable errors in NASA’s estimates of the location of the fall and the rate of disintegration of the Skylab. NASA planned to land the Skylab in the high seas 1,300 kilometers south of Cape Town, South Africa, but when it reentered the atmosphere on July 11, its debris was scattered to the surface of the South Indian Ocean and the desert areas of Western Australia. Studies have shown that the height of the disintegration of the sky laboratory is about 16 kilometers, which is much lower than expected. The disintegration of the spacecraft here is very dangerous. Fortunately, the wreckage did not cause any damage. It is worth mentioning that the Australian government issued a $400 fine to the US government in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act, but the US government ignored it. Until 2009, an American music talent gave the money to Australia through crowdfunding. ▲
Bureaucracy causes the U.S. space shuttle to run out of control and disintegrate
If Skylab is the “second largest man-made object” that has returned to the atmosphere out of control, then who is the “largest”? The answer is the US “Columbia” space shuttle. The space shuttle, weighing more than 100 tons, broke up out of control when it returned to the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, and 7 astronauts were killed on the spot. Subsequent investigation revealed that this was another major space accident caused by NASA bureaucracy.
On January 16, 2003, the “Columbia” took off from the Kennedy Space Center. Everything seemed normal, but about 80 seconds later, a briefcase-sized piece of insulating foam fell off the outer fuel tank and hit the front edge of the space shuttle’s left wing.
NASA’s earlier investigation report declared that “no one noticed this accident at the time.” But in 2013, Wayne Hall, NASA’s former flight director, admitted that engineers had discovered anomalies at the time.
On January 23, 2003, the “Columbia” still in space received a ground mail: “About 80 seconds into the air, the photo analysis showed that some insulating foam fragments falling from the external fuel tank hit the underside of the space shuttle’s left wing. Surface.” But the email said, “We have seen the same phenomenon when other space shuttles took off, so we don’t have to worry about problems when we return.”
Such understatement obscures the seriousness of the matter. At that time, NASA’s technical team had already noticed the possible serious consequences of the impact, but because the photos taken during takeoff were not clear, they requested the superiors to call the US reconnaissance satellite to take clear photos of the “Columbia”, or the astronauts Visually recognize the actual situation at the impact site from the International Space Station. Both of these requests were rejected by NASA executives. Investigations showed that NASA was accustomed to the shedding of insulation foam during the takeoff of the space shuttle, thinking that it was “not a big deal.” NASA later admitted that if it had realized that the Columbian was seriously injured early, it would have had the opportunity to launch another space shuttle into orbit to carry out rescue work.
At 20:15 on February 1, US Eastern Time, the ignorant “Columbia” unit initiated the re-entry procedure. Due to the damage of the heat shield at the impact site, the high-temperature air generated when it returned to the atmosphere penetrated into the left wing, melting the internal structure, and the space shuttle broke up out of control.
After the accident, the United States conducted a large-scale ground search that lasted several months. The space shuttle wreckage fragments were scattered in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The 28,000 debris fragments that fell from the sky did not cause any damage to the ground personnel. After the accident, the US space shuttle was grounded for two years and was eventually retired in 2011 ahead of schedule. ▲
The threat of rocket wreckage behind US manned spaceflight
In the weight list of man-made objects that have lost control and returned to the atmosphere, the top two are made in the United States. What about the third? This is counted as the second-stage rocket wreckage of the “Saturn 5” launched by the Skylab. It is 24.9 meters long and weighs 36.2 tons-still American. Since the United States has the largest number of space launches, the space junk left by the United States and the threat to the ground are also “second to none.”
As early as November 1960, Cuba reported the discovery of fragments of American rockets. Since the start of the US manned space program, the number of strange “space visitors” in many parts of the world has soared. After the US “Gemini 6” spacecraft launched in August 1965, Australia discovered a strange titanium sphere. Experts found that it was a water bucket for astronauts on the “Gemini 6” spacecraft to drink water. In May 1966, the wreckage of the “Saturn 5” rocket test model developed for the manned moon landing program fell in Brazil. On March 16, 1966, the “Gemini 8” manned spacecraft realized the first manual rendezvous and docking in human history. In June of that year, the wreckage of the Atlas rocket that transported it fell in Colombia. In July 1967, the wreckage of the rocket used by the “Gemini 12” manned spacecraft was discovered in Mexico.
After the much-anticipated “Apollo” moon landing program began, the massive “Saturn 5” rocket won enough attention, but it poses an unprecedented threat to the ground. In February 1968, Colombia discovered the first-stage wreckage of the “Saturn 1B” rocket used by the “Apollo 5” spacecraft. In April 1968, the “Saturn 5” booster used by “Apollo 6” was discovered in Angola. In July 1969, the wreckage of the “Saturn 5” rocket even landed on the deck of a German ship in the Atlantic Ocean! Soon after the “Saturn 5” put the Skylab into orbit in 1973, the second stage rocket went out of control and re-entered the atmosphere and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The fall of space debris known to be the most likely to cause human lives is also related to the United States. In 1997, the debris from the second stage of the American “Delta-2” rocket reentered the atmosphere and “passed by” an American woman. The rocket’s storage tank weighing about 260 kilograms also fell into a farmhouse in Texas. Fortunately, no one was injured.