If you’re sailing through certain parts of the Pacific Ocean eight years from now, you may be in for a scare. The sky will be ripped apart by some 400 tons of metal. They will crash into the waters, in one great impact. This is the story of the imminent fall of the ISS.
The ISS has been orbiting the Earth since it began construction in 1998. It hosted more than 250 visitors from 20 countries. “It has been a great success,” said Josef Aschbacher, the head of the European Space Agency. The program boosted international collaboration. Especially between the United States and Russia, which partnered soon after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The reentry will be the largest in history. In March, NASA requested funds from Congress to begin development of a “space tug.” It may be needed to perform the task
Figuring out exactly how to get the station out of orbit is a mammoth task. Many large objects have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. For example, Russia’s Mir space station in 2001. But the ISS is three times the size.
At 109 meters long, it is the size of a soccer field. It is the largest human structure ever assembled in space. Its lifetime is estimated to last until 2030 at the latest.
Upon return, the ISS will collide with Earth’s thicker atmosphere at about 29,000 kilometers per hour. At about 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the modules will begin to separate. Several sonic booms will be heard as the debris crosses the sky. “You’ll have 400 tons of flaming fragments flying through the atmosphere,” NASA illustrated.
At the bottom of the sea
But this flaming debris should not pose a risk to human life. Anything that survives reentry will land at Point Nemo. It is an expanse of the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and South America. It is used as a graveyard for space structures. It is far from any population.
This part of the Pacific Ocean will have to be restricted during reentry to avoid casualties. It remains to be seen how they will handle that with planes and ships.
The imminent fall of the ISS will close an era. But that closure will be, indeed, spectacular. An event never before contemplated.