BEIJING — As Tiangong-1 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on April 2, China bade farewell to the experimental space lab and pathfinder for China’s space station.
The space lab entered the atmosphere at around 8:15 am on April 2, over the South Pacific, and was mostly burned up in the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said.
Launched from Jiuquan satellite launch center in Northwest China on Sept 29, 2011, Tiangong-1 tested docking technology to prepare the way for the coming space station. It docked with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft. Six astronauts, four men and two women, spent time in the lab.
In June 2013, Wang Yaping gave her famous physics lesson to students on Earth from the lab, inspiring nationwide enthusiasm for science and space exploration.
Tiangong-1 was in service for four and a half years, two and a half years longer than its designed life, making important preparations for a permanent space station to be put into orbit around 2022.
Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer at the Astronaut Center of China, said, “Tiangong-1 will go down in China’s space history. It helped us accumulate precious knowledge for work on the space station.”
“Although Tiangong-1 was only a transitional platform between the spaceship and space station, it was a key to our development of docking technology, and demonstrated the possibility of long stays in space for Chinese astronauts. The fervor aroused among the Chinese is invaluable,” said Bai Ruixue, a former space journalist and now CEO of a commercial space education project.
“When I was reporting on the docking between Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in November 2011, many people had tears in their eyes when they saw the two spacecraft, like two specs of dust floating in the vast universe, connect with each other. It’s a kind of romance created by science and technology,” Bai recalled.
“Tiangong-1 has carried the space dreams of millions of Chinese. Although only a test base for future projects, it has had far-reaching effects,” said Mao Xinyuan, a space science columnist.
The return of Tiangong-1 was captured by some amateur astronomers who plotted its trajectory as it flew across the sky above Beijing at dawn on April 1.
“It was very bright and moving very fast. It’s time for us to say goodbye to Tiangong-1,” said Yu Jun, an enthusiastic star gazer.
Over the past few years, Zhu Jin, director of Beijing planetarium, has taken many photos of Tiangong-1 from the ground as the spacecraft flew by.
“On clear nights, we could see it with the naked eye. I also take photos of the International Space Station, but it is not the same feeling as when I see Chinese spacecraft or satellites. I hope China’s space station will be a great success,” Zhu said.
When Zhu travels around China he finds many young people fanatical about space exploration. “I think it’s because our space programs have made such great progress in recent years,” he said.