Long March 5B: China rocket debris likely plunged into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, says China’s space agency
Most of the huge Long March 5B rocket, however, burned up on reentering the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a post on WeChat.
It was unclear if any debris had landed on the atoll nation.
The US Space Command said the Long March 5B had reentered Earth over the Arabian Peninsula.
The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth’s gravity dragged it back to the ground.
Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they’re left in so-called “graveyard” orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that “leaves these big stages in low orbit,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University.
In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land.
The European Space Agency had predicted a “risk zone” that encompassed “any portion of Earth’s surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude” — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe’s Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.
The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth’s surface area is consumed by oceans, so the odds of avoiding a catastrophic run-in were slim.
Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth’s orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of uncontrolled junk, most of which are smaller than 10 centimeters.
Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, though most pieces burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere before having a chance to make an impact on the surface. But parts of larger objects, like the Long March rocket in this instance, can survive reentry and threaten structures and people on the ground.
“Norms have been established,” McDowell said.
“There’s no international law or rule — nothing specific — but the practice of countries around the world has been: ‘Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let’s not leave our trash in orbit in this way.'”
US Coronavirus: Vaccines are helping bring down US Covid-19 numbers. But the virus is now hitting one group of Americans harder
And the country has averaged more than 49,400 new Covid-19 cases daily in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins. On January 8, the country averaged more than 251,000 cases every day — the highest seven-day average of the pandemic.
“We are starting to see the effects of all these vaccinations,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told CNN on Monday.
Especially, he added, among the country’s older population, which was prioritized early on for the shots.
“This pandemic now is really among young people and it is a very dangerous time to be unvaccinated in the country because it is spreading pretty efficiently among young people and unvaccinated people,” Jha said.
So it’s critical that younger Americans get a shot as well, experts say, for both their own protection and to help the country reach widespread protection.
Governor: Young Oregonians hospitalized with ‘severe’ Covid-19
In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown recently tightened some restrictions amid a surge in new cases and hospitalizations.
US could be dealing with this for ‘a long time’
More than 44% of the total US population has gotten at least one vaccine dose and nearly 32% is fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.
Among US adults, more than 56% have gotten at least one shot, the data shows, and more than 40.5% are fully vaccinated.
Once the US is able to vaccinate more than 70% of its adults, we may finally be able to see a semblance of normalcy, Jha said on Monday.
“Case numbers will plummet. We may not be at herd immunity, we’ll see little outbreaks here and there but life will begin to really get back to normal,” he said.
But what if we don’t get there?
“That’s a problem,” Jha said. “We’re going to be stuck with dealing with this for a long time.”
“If we just don’t vaccinate, then obviously one of the things we’ve known is we get big outbreaks, you can get more variants,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to do those large gatherings, indoor concerts, outdoor baseball games, this stuff will get much, much harder if we do not make more progress on vaccinations,” he added.
What could likely happen, one expert said, is communities that have a lower vaccination coverage will continue to see high transmission of the virus, while in other parts of the country with more vaccinations, case rates will be much lower.
“In this country, there’s a real divide around vaccination,” former acting CDC director Dr. Richard Besser told CNN. “People tend to live among people with similar beliefs.”
An important authorization could come next week
The one puzzle piece experts say is missing is getting children inoculated.
But there’s good news on that front.
Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization. The FDA, which is currently reviewing data submitted by Pfizer, will have to amend the emergency use authorization for the vaccine, but the process should be straightforward, the official said.
A group of advisers to the CDC will schedule a meeting for after any FDA decision to extend the EUA to new age groups and will advise the CDC on whether to recommend the use of the vaccine in 12 to 15 year-olds.
Walensky will then have to decide whether the agency will recommend the vaccine’s use in the new age group.
“That will immediately add millions of more people eligible for vaccination. I bet a lot of those kids will get vaccinated,” Jha told CNN. “That will make a big difference as well in terms of building up population immunity.”
Pfizer and Moderna are both testing their vaccines in children as young as 6 months old and expect to ask the FDA for EUAs covering infants and children later this year.
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.