The Validation of Chicken Little

Chicken Little caused quite a ruckus in his hometown after running through the streets alerting residents that “the sky is falling in.”

He was perhaps early.

“When you put things in space, and don’t provide them the capability to stay in space, then gravity eventually tugs them home,” says retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, who served on the International Space Station with the Expedition 15 and 16 crews, spending 152 days in space.

Sometime between now and April China’s orbiting prototype of their long-planned space station, a craft known as “Heavenly Palace,”  will lose speed, which will cause it to lose altitude and succumb to the effects of gravity, crashing earthward and giving some people the possible appearance that the sky is falling in.

It won’t be the first such occurrence.

In 1979 NASA’s Skylab reentered earth’s atmosphere and pieces landed in Western Australia.  In 1991 the Soviet’s Salyut 7 space station broke into pieces around Argentina when it was drawn back to earth. Where will China’s land?  “It’s close to 100% that some piece will hit the ground somewhere.  But will anyone see it?  Will it hit anyone?  Will anyone know where it is?  That’s the real question?” Anderson says.

Where China’s spacecraft disintegrates can’t be predicted in advance, Anderson cautions, but facetiously predicts what he’ll be doing when it enters earth’s atmosphere.  “I’ll duck,” he laughs.

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