147. That’s no moon

Saturday May 8 2021

There used to be so many more stars at night. As a kid, we lived in the country, far from any big town and we learned to identify some of the constellations. At least the easy ones, like the big dipper that was a primary connect-the-dots to resemble its name. To see a falling star wasn’t really rare, but still uncommon enough to catch one’s breath at its appearance.

We look up now from our suburban backyard and only the biggest and brightest of the nightlights appear to keep company with the moon. And it’s not at all unusual to see a faint light slowing tracking along the night sky. In our modern age, instead of shooting stars, we now can spot a low-flying satellite or, if you time it right, even the International Space Station.

Do you know how many thousands of man-made satellites are orbiting Earth these days? I don’t, in spite of Googling this question ten different ways. I couldn’t find a reputable source for this query and came across websites whose answers that started at 2,500 and just went up from there. You know, I hope there is someone that keeps track of this stuff, even if it’s just some weird guy in an Arizona desert with a military-grade telescope.

Is that … an X?

And if you want to sleep peacefully tonight, do not look up images depicting the space junk floating around in Earth’s upper atmosphere. It you didn’t already have issues with claustrophobia, these images will alter your awareness of personal space.

This weekend, we’ve been made aware of a new satellite out there. But really, this thing is only a satellite by basic definition; it’s actually space debris.

Right. Twenty-three tons of space junk that’s completing a decaying orbit around the Earth every ninety minutes.

It’s going to fall, they say. Uncontrolled and very soon.

This bit of space debris is the rocket booster from the Long March 5B rocket launched by the Chinese government about a week ago as the first stage of building their new space station.

Some experts are predicting, considering the ratio of water vs. land, chances are good that it will land in the ocean. Actually, the United States Space Force has determined three possible landings for the hurtling hunk of destruction – three over water and one over land. So there’s only a 25% possibility of squishing a person, with maybe bumping that up a percentage if there’s some hapless and unlucky ship in the way

“Don’t worry,” is the official report coming from the Chinese government. The risk of anything bad happening here is very small, they say. No word, however, on why they built a rocket booster that didn’t safely disintegrate like every other space program in the world has accomplished for the past sixty years.

Face masks and hard hats are this season’s accessories.

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Addendum

Sunday May 9 2021

Well, the good news is the rocket booster and its debris landed safely in the Indian Ocean near Maldives, only taking out countless unsuspecting saltwater creatures. No casualties to human lives or property.

Bad news is that the construction of the Chinese Space Station has just begun and there are several more rocket launches planned. The space station is targeted to be fully operational by the end of 2022.

Keep your hard hats handy, people.

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