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Friday, October 14, 2005

Flash! Earth's gravity affects Chinese spacecraft

Whatever your opinion of the BBC's politics, the science reporting used to be quite good. Yesterday's story about the Chinese Shenzhou VI mission wasn't one of their better days, however. The second and third paragraphs read:
Gravity has drawn Shenzhou VI too close to Earth, the agency said.

Shenzhou VI, which has two astronauts on board, is in a low enough orbit to be affected by the Earth's gravitational pull.

Hello! Everything in orbit around the Earth, and for that matter everything in the universe is "affected by the Earth's gravitational pull"; gravitation is a long range force--it gets weaker with the square of the distance, but never goes to zero. What the BBC was trying to say is the orbit is sufficiently low (around 335 km according to the latest orbital elements downloaded by Earth and Moon Viewer) that atmospheric drag is causing its orbit to slowly decay.

Posted at October 14, 2005 12:33