A piece of a Chinese rocket launched as an experiment to send humans to the moon in the future has crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Mauritania.
The Long March 5B (CZ-5B) rocket was launched into space on 5 May before its core stage, which serves as the backbone and weighs almost 18 tonnes, made an uncontrolled descent back to Earth on Monday and crashed into the waters of Mauritania’s west coast.
The mission of the Chinese rocket was to launch a cargo capsule and a new-generation spacecraft into space which would later be used to send astronauts to the Moon from the Chinese space station, as well as for possible future Moon landings that China would conduct.
The descent of the 17.8-tonne piece of the rocket was detected and tracked by a unit of the US Air Force, the 18th Space Control Squadron, which tracks space debris within Earth’s orbit. It was speculated that it would land somewhere around Africa, the US, or Australia, with it would most likely hit water, with little probability of it hitting land.
Landings of space debris and remains of rockets are almost always planned by the operators, but are only sometimes controlled when being brought back to Earth, which leaves uncontrolled landings like this an unlikely occurrence.
The last major uncontrolled descent was that of the 39-tonne Russian Salyut-7 in 1991.
China has been advancing its space program in recent years, particularly in its efforts to catch up with the US. It has also been cooperating with and assisting Middle Eastern nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia in their entry into the ‘space race’, with Tehran having launched its first satellite into orbit last month.