China and Russia launch liftoffs and space satellites

Image copyright NASA Image caption A Chinese Long March-2F rocket over Vietnam, carrying an experimental space station to orbit the Earth. First there was the Russian Soyuz splashing down in Kazakhstan, and then a…

China and Russia launch liftoffs and space satellites

Image copyright NASA Image caption A Chinese Long March-2F rocket over Vietnam, carrying an experimental space station to orbit the Earth.

First there was the Russian Soyuz splashing down in Kazakhstan, and then a Chinese Long March-2F rocket thundering out of a mountain range in Vietnam. All that was missing was the Soyuz it landed in.

The two crafts were launched at the same time, but the Long March-2F reached orbit before the Soyuz did.

That meant the Soyuz was able to safely jettison the debris of the experiment and splash down quickly. But this was a close call.

Technicians working at the Chinese spaceport of Jiuquan kept a close eye on the orbit and flight path of the Soyuz. They could see clear as day the high-point of the Soyuz’s descent.

Four rocket explosions so close together had the potential to cause major problems for the Soyuz.

Image copyright NASA Image caption A Soyuz has splashed down in Kazakhstan, but a Long March-2F was on the move and on target to crash somewhere

So when the Long March, carrying the life-sized 5m (16ft) long bus-sized experimental space station called Tiangong-2 (Heavenly Palace 2), unexpectedly veered off course and reached the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere, they worried – for a minute or so, at least.

But the space station then re-entered more quickly and the damage was minor. Long March-2F fell as a fireball, all of its six-metre size, visible from the ground.

That made it difficult for us to see the debris falling too.

We can’t go back into space to see if it would have been safe for the Soyuz to touch down with the debris of its predecessor just 50 kilometres (31 miles) away.

In future, both vehicles will go straight to the bottom of the ocean.

It’s incredible that we’re leaving our footprints in space. But in 2018, we can all be proud of what these astronauts and cosmonauts have achieved.

Follow James Bloodworth on Twitter: @BBCJamesBloodworth

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