Speed Reads

heads up

A disabled Chinese space station could crash into America on April 1. Seriously.

China's Tiangong-1 space station, launched in 2011, is falling to Earth, and the European Space Agency estimates it will crash and burn between March 31 and April 2, though the April 1 disintegration date is "highly variable." Tiangong-1 ("Heavenly Palace-1") hosted two crews of Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts, in 2012 and 2013, but it has actually been orbiting out of control since at least June 2016. Whenever it finally enters the atmosphere, "most of it, though not all, should burn up during the fiery re-entry," NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce says. For the parts that don't, "the possible impact zone covers about two-thirds of the globe, including a lot of the continental United States."

In its animated simulation of the crash, USA Today says that debris from Tiangong-1 could fall anywhere from Oregon to Connecticut, though the odds of anyone being injured by falling metal is incredibly small.

When America's first space station, Skylab, fell to Earth in 1979, NPR recalls, it was "an international media event," but even though Skylab was twice as long and wide as the school bus–sized Tiangong-1 and 10 times as heavy, its debris that scattered across Western Australia did not cause any injuries.