I wish I may, I wish I might ... aww nuts, it’s a satellite
We went into the weekend wondering where the 100-foot long core of a Chinese rocket would strike as it made its way back to terra firma.
What a Harvard astronomer called a “dead hunk of metal” has been out for a casual drive at 18,000 mph and reportedly was built without the usual safeguards that would steer such returning modules clear of populated areas.
As opposed to that other unwelcome intruder emanating from China that carried with it potentially lethal consequences, your chances of getting struck down by rocket debris are not lessened by wearing a mask.
On Saturday, the U.S. Space Force — in what was apparently one of its first official actions after picking the font for its official stationery — projected four possible orbits for reentry … three over water, one over land.
The potential landing areas, the USSF said, included the southeastern U.S., Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, parts of Southern Europe, much of Northern and Central Africa, the Middle East, Southern India and Australia.
Of course, no one knew for sure … so it was cheeky of the Space Force to be that exact.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. NASA has estimated that the chances of an individual being hit by a dead hunk of metal (or anything else) falling from the sky as one in several trillion … so we’ve got nothing to worry about.
That’s what my parents though back when I was a kid — and it’s exactly how we lost our pet dinosaur.
China, of course, is far from alone in sending things up that must come down. In one of the more famous events of this type, NASA’s Skylab — our first orbital space station — came tumbling, tumbling tumbling back to Earth in 1979.
At the time, I was living in a rental unit in the main house at what once had been a dairy farm in western Massachusetts. The cows had long since moved on, and the gentleman farmer converted his pasture into a property that attracted another herd who would make a mess of the place.
Scientists predicted that Skylab would land in the Indian Ocean — but they also had predicted Dino would have nothing to worry about — so our dairy farmer turned golf course owner landlord did what any civic-minded individual would do.
He held the first (and only) Skylab Memorial tournament.
Dead hunks of metal were scattered to and fro about the course. Hospital tents, dispensing concoctions whose medicinal qualities were questionable were set up along a few fairways.
For an extra couple of bucks, you could purchase “Skylab insurance” — a notarized policy that stated that should a golfer be struck by the incoming space station while they were playing in the tournament … they would never have to pay for another round of golf there again.
Thankfully, no was was harmed by debris — which landed in the ocean and remote parts of western Australia — or by whatever it was they were serving in the hospital tents.
My memory of the latter is a little foggy … but I do remember it was green.
This weekend’s return of the Chinese rocket core, however, doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods by any means.
The United States Space Surveillance Network estimates that there were 128,000,000 pies of junk in orbit around our planet … and only 20,000 of those are large enough to be tracked.
We’re talking about 18,000,000 pounds of flotsam and jetsam up there just hanging out up there, enjoying the view … and, occasionally, ramming into each other, making more pieces of debris that, someday, might find its way back to a planet that still hasn’t figured out what to do with styrofoam.
And that’s just the stuff for which there’s a verifiable source.
Remember back in March when much of the Northwest was fascinated, and more than tad worried, about the streak flash that crossed our skies — a disturbance that no acronymed science agency was willing to identify?
It had the appearance of a ribbon of fire and light, pulsating in and out of view, which data postulated was a conflux of temporal energy traveling through the galaxy once every 39.1 years.
No, wait … that was the nexus that killed Capt. Kirk.
A month later, the National Weather Service claimed it was the remains of a Falcon 9 rocket stage that “did not successfully have a de-orbit burn.”
I mean, another personal against meteorologists, but isn’t that the sort of determination that should be made public by … oh, I don’t know … the United States Space Surveillance Network, or even the Space Force — without leaving it to the folks who inform us that tomorrow’s going to be either partly sunny or partly cloudy?
My uneducated guess is that no one really knows, which puts that energy ribbon in an ever-growing category of unexplained phenomena that folks working for acronyms hope would just go away.
We used to look at the sky and wonder what was up there. Now that we know, we’re stuck wondering when it’s coming down.
An energy ribbon once struck Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin at firstname.lastname@example.org ... but it had no lasting impact.