Austin says military has no plan to shoot the tumbling Chinese rocket, hints at capabilities to do so
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"We have the capability to do a lot of things, but we don't have a plan to shoot it down as we speak," Austin told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday.
Space agencies are tracking the path of the rocket and expect it to return to earth around May 8.
Last week, the 100-foot Long March 5B rocket launched the first part of its space station into low-earth orbit. The rocket is among the largest pieces of space debris to ever fall to earth.
Beijing’s space agency has lost control of the rocket, violating international standards that rockets return to earth in a controlled manner.
Austin added a veiled slap on the wrist for the Chinese: "For those of us who operate in the space domain, there should be a requirement to operate in a safe and thoughtful mode and make sure we take those kinds of things into consideration."
China through its state media on Wednesday blasted "Western hype of the 'China threat' in space technology advancement." It said civilian experts believe it is "completely normal" for rocket debris to return to earth and said it will likely fall into international waters, offering no threat assessment.
Last May, another Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa. That rocket - 18 tons - was the largest piece of space debris to fall to earth since 1991. China’s first space station crashed to earth in 2016 after officials confirmed they had lost control of it.