back to article A tale of two nations: See China blast off from the Moon as drone shows America's Arecibo telescope falling apart

Hours after Chinese state media showed the nation's Chang'e-5 probe successfully leaving the Moon, with lunar samples safely tucked away inside, US officials released the first footage of America's Arecibo telescope collapsing. The juxtaposition of the two nations' space science capabilities started at 1510 UTC when Chang'e-5 …

  1. Chairman of the Bored

    How far we have fallen...

    See title

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: How far we have fallen...

      Yeah well, the mighty Roman Empire sells pizza now. Nothing is eternal.

  2. Johnny Canuck


    Is a cruel mistress.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Gravity

      Gravity, not just a good idea, it is the law?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @chivo243 - Re: Gravity

        An old law that still stands. Perhaps legislators should get involved and bring it up to date.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: @chivo243 - Gravity

          No, it is still popular at grass-roots level

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: @chivo243 - Gravity

            Only with luddutes! I want my personal jet pack and flying car!! Repealing or modifying the Law of Gravity can only bring those dreams closer!

  3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    So, were they expecting the collapse at just that moment, or did they have their GoPro and drone hanging around just in case?

    1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      The GoPro was probably setup and just left there. Could have been running for weeks if powered and set to loop record. As for the Drone, it's pretty obvious that it was surveying the cable damage at the moment when it finally gave up. Please don't start any more conspiracy theories. Enough of that mindless drivel around already.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It was the downdraft of the drone rotors which caused the collapse...

        1. Cuddles

          Drone fuel can't melt steel cables!

        2. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

          The drone AI's are already plotting against us.

      2. mevets


        Was Arecibo some sort of 5g concentrater?

        1. Jaybus

          Re: 5g?

          Yes. It was how Puerto Rico spread COVID-19 to the world.

          1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: 5g?

            So, taken down by a Homeland Security drone?

    2. Duncan Macdonald

      Probably had some warning

      There were probably some noises from the cable as strands failed before the cable finally snapped. Someone reacted quickly to get a drone into position to see the end.

      Icon for the maintenance ===================>

    3. TheProf

      The drone was there checking on the state of the cables and pylons.

    4. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

      At the start of the drone video there is already one frayed end of a snapped cable. I assume that first cable break caught their attention and the structure held together long enough for them to get the drone in position to inspect it.

    5. phuzz Silver badge

      There had been a small earthquake nearby that morning, so they were checking for additional damage to the cables (they'd been doing daily checks, so they could compare the degradation over time).

  4. Anonymous Custard


    That Arecibo footage is just heartbreaking.

    So sad...

    1. Kane

      Re: :(

      "That Arecibo footage is just heartbreaking.

      So sad..."

      Agreed, RIP you absolutely magnificent beast.

  5. Chris G


    This year's US defence budget was $934billion,

    Arecibo's budget for 2019: $3.6million.

    For the price of a couple of flying white elephants each year (F35), Arecibo could have been maintained at an adequate level.

    But you can't project power with a big telescope as much as you can with a shiny warplane.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Perspective

      Ironic really, Arecibo was originally part of the ICBM early warning system.

      Incidentally FAST is no replacement, it cannot do the RADAR telescopy which Arecibo could.

    2. Getmo

      Re: Perspective

      This here is the real problem. The absolutely absurd military spending has been going on for so long, it feels strange & uncomfortable for officials to even *think* about suggesting we curb it.

      Meanwhile, despite all the great innovations NASA has actually provided for us terrestrial folk, like memory foam and Velcro, you'll still see people regurgitating the same words in protest of it, even on this forum: "Why are we spending so much money on space when there's problems here on Earth? Cut all space funding until land-life is made better!"

      And so NASA budgets are always on the chopping block, while the elephant in the room is wearing camouflage.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Perspective

        "The absolutely absurd military spending has been going on for so long, it feels strange & uncomfortable for officials to even *think* about suggesting we curb it."

        It's not just that - even just holding it steady would be an achievement.

        The US military budget has increased about 40% in the last decade. It's one of the few areas of expenditure the US government opens its pocketbook without question - and that $950 million/year is only the KNOWN spending. Recall this very website once reported on an IT-related accounting fraud in the US army which was 3 times higher than the army's official annual budget

  6. DavCrav

    OK, the reality is that a cable snapped in August, and safety investigations showed that it was going to be a real pain to fix safely. Just as they were about to start to begin repairs, another one popped in November, and it was deemed far too dangerous to fix, as people's safety is more important than a telescope near the end of its life anyway.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    The fall of Rome

    Fifty-one years ago, America landed two people on the Moon. Today its National Science Foundation is proudly attaching its logo to footage of the collapse of a major piece of scientific infrastructure as a result of decades of underinvestment, while China is sending back images taken from the surface of the Moon. An instrument for which there is no replacement, anywhere in the world. If an instrument is eventually constructed which can do the work which can now not be done, it will be constructed in China.

    But no-one will care, because Americans – like all of us – are sitting staring at their phones, living in a dream world where they can pretend that the real world which is falling apart around them does not matter.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The fall of Rome

      On the other hand, NASA is also proudly attaching it's logo to information coming "live" from "interstellar" space , the surface of Mars and other places, not because it's easy, but because it's hard.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The fall of Rome

        Yes, and LIGO and other amazing things. I could easily be wrong about the decline of the US: I just look at what's going on there with horror (and with only slightly less horror at what's going on here as well).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amy Coney Barrett

    To state the obvious here, its not just the telescope that wasn't maintained, its a symptom of a much wider problem.

    You see the Barrett supreme court ruling? Religion overrules pandemic disease control? You cannot limit the numbers who go to church to stop spreading a deadly disease. It's not really a religious ruling, its a political partisan one. If Trump had tackled the virus, then the Republican supreme court would not be undermining disease control right now to fit in with Trump's inaction, they'd be saying "Jesus doesn't want you to kill your fellow man by spreading a deadly disease".

    Republicans kill people with a deadly disease in the name of Jesus, because Trump didn't tackle Coronavirus.

    And along comes President Biden with his competent government, and Barret and the Supremes will undermine competent government for partisan aims all the way along.

    So now see next year, businesses bar people from joining a gym or similar mass-meeting venue, if they are not vaccinated. The Republican televangelists scream "Jesus demands you don't get vaccinated". Amy Cohen Barrett will rule that religious freedom overrules disease control and thus you cannot stop businesses from requiring vaccination. She'll intentionally spread a deadly disease with that ruling too. More killing in the name of Jesus.

    Do that enough and she'll spread Covid so widely, it will mutate and you'll never get it under control. Like the Flu new strains each year, new death toll. Year in year out, you'll need to wait another year for the next vaccine.

    All because Republicans and their partisan politics are more important than law or country or life or basic legal judicial competence.

    The decline of the USA in a nutshell.

    1. AJ MacLeod

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      "The decline of the USA in a nutshell."

      To me your whole post of semi-coherent irrelevant rubbish is symptomatic of a mental illness at best. Shouldn't you be happily looking forward to the great new future shortly to be ushered in by your favoured political saviour? Oh no... Trump is already getting the blame for Biden's screwups pre-emptively!

      (For the record I am neither American nor do I have any particular attachment to any political party anywhere.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Amy Coney Barrett

        Will Barret do that? Yes. Did Trump appoint her? Yes. Is killing people by intentionally spreading a deadly disease in the name of Jesus blasphemy? Yes. So would Trump be to blame? Yes.

        You don't like me saying it, but when Barret does that, don't pretend Trump isn't to blame for her being there, or that it wasn't predictable or that it doesn't form the pattern of decline in the USA.

        Send Barret a photo and little bio of the people she's killed. She obviously lives in the little Faux News bubble, where the dead are all 'crisis actors', so it would be nice for her to actually understand who she kills by her choices. Put faces on the dead she causes.

        Am I supposed to blame Biden for appointing Barret? A judge of barely two years experience??

        Have you heard of Scott O Grady? A trumpette Q Anon conspiracy nutjob Trump is trying to put in the Pentagon in charge of troops? His primary qualification for the job is he demanded Trump call martial law if he lost the election, shoot his opponents for treason for daring a coup election against Trump.

        Will Trump be responsible if Scott goes on a killing spree? Of course. He's a nutjob, pumped up on Trump lies, and clearly shouldn't be put in charge of armed troops. Trump chose him exactly because of that.

        Trump knows he lost the election, all of his attacks on America have "to by January" time limit on them. But his nutjobs really buy into the lies.

        As Trump leaves power, he's getting so damn desperate. It's kinda sad. A bit pathetic. How much damage can he do? Can he undermine the military? Definitely for Afghanistan. Can he have a few thousand troops killed? Yep, he'll hand them on a plate to the Taliban. Can he hand all the US secrets over to Putin? Probably already has. Can he have a coup attempt led by a Q Anon nutjob? Unlikely, chain of command prevents coups. Can he crash the economy? Easily. Can he remove 20% of voters from the census by pretending renters are not Americans? Probably not, too many court battles to fight. But he'll try and Republicans will cower in the corner all pathetic, wishing he'd just go away and making excuses.

        The decline of the USA in a nutjobshell.

    2. I am the liquor

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      Huh? Politicisation of the Supreme Court is related to the Aricebo telescope how? Has radio astronomy been ruled unconstitutional or something?

      Or is it that if any random thing falls over in America, Republicans did it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Amy Coney Barrett

        No, a Republican religious nutjob name Amy Cohen Barret, blocked basic infectious disease control in the name of 'religious freedom'.

        Science says, "limit numbers", Republican nutjob says "but religious freedom trumps science".

        The things falling over in this case are people, and yes Republicans are responsible for their deaths.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Amy Coney Barrett

          Actually, science says that most people (those who are not elderly or chronically infirm) should live their lives normally and should be encouraged to do so as a matter of policy. Go read the Great Barrington Declaration, written by three medical researchers (that's a kind of scientist) who are faculty members at well-known tier-1 institutions of higher learning. Over 50,000 other scientists and clinicians worldwide have also signed.

          But then, why let science get in the way of your political ideology? El Reg encouraged you by suggesting that America's had a bad four years in space exploration, as if that's mostly or exclusively Mr. Trump's fault. Total nonsense. The Americans have been floundering for decades regardless of politics. Back on topic, then...

          The decline of the United States in space exploration begin in the 1970s, long before anyone had heard of Justice Barrett, COVID, or The Register. That decline might be laid at the feet of the Johnson administration (a leftist, by the way), or the Nixon administration (a rightist, by the way), the Vietnam war (started during the Kennedy administration, a famous supporter of space exploration, and continued by leftists and rightists alike for over a decade), or whatever other sources to which one might attribute the general malaise of the 1970s. And there were many. If you want a technical, on-point discussion of this, I suggest reading Aldrin. He is quite accessible, apolitical, and has made concrete suggestions for what the Americans (or anyone, for that matter) might do instead of their timid LEO-focused programme. And no, China's not doing any of it either. They appear to be on track to replay the US history in space, right down to the Americans' eventual ill-fated obsession with orbital weapons systems. We should all hope they do no better, because if the Chinese are successful in space that is where they will focus their attention.

          1. DavCrav

            Re: Amy Coney Barrett

            The 'Great' Barrington Declaration essentially says:

            1) Anyone at risk of Covid (old, disabled, etc.) lock your doors and do not come out again, ever.

            2) Everyone else carry on, and you probably won't die. A lot of you will become quite ill, but oh well.

            The nonsense piece of paper thinks that Covid will die out when herd immunity sets in, but that will take a long time without a vaccine, years, and so essentially the idea is everyone over 60 or so should be locked in their house for a couple of years at least.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Amy Coney Barrett

              The "let's all get infected because herd immunity yay!" scenario has been conclusively proven as bullshit. Even Sweden is retreating from it now. US hospitals all over the country are at capacity and things are going to get worse with Thanksgiving travel infections hitting the hospitals soon, followed by Christmas/New Year's travel infections.

              I hope the vaccine isn't quite enough for herd immunity, so the deniers and antivaxers are forced to live (and die) with the consequences of their stupidity. Fortunately in this case kids almost never from covid so parents being antivax nutjobs won't harm their kids (other than I suppose the chance of some becoming an orphan, but perhaps not being raised by stupid parents will help them in the long run)

              Moderna reports their vaccine is 100% effective against "severe covid" so even the small percentage of vaccinated people who catch covid won't die from it. All the death will fall upon those who choose not to get the vaccine, and deservedly so.

        2. I am the liquor

          Re: Amy Coney Barrett

          My reading of the story was that in "this case" the thing falling over was a radio telescope. Are you sure you didn't mean to post all this on a different news item - perhaps one to which it is in some way relevant?

    3. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett


    4. Jaybus

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      Hmmm. I don't think Agudath Israel, one of the institutions bringing the case to court, did so in the name of Jesus.

    5. Sykowasp

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      Agreed, but irrelevant to the telescope, except as a tenuous link to the decline of the USA as a progressive superpower.

    6. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      This section of The Register is called "Science". It is not called "Politics". Please stay on topic, thank you.

    7. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Amy Coney Barrett

      "To state the obvious here, its not just the telescope that wasn't maintained, its a symptom of a much wider problem."

      Ignoring the rest of the rant, the USA has _major_ infrastructure woes. The Interstate highway system deferred maintenance budget is now in excess of $4.5 TRILLION - that's why we occasionally see major bridges falling down

      The recent harvest of idiots at 1600 Pennsylvania are a SYMPTOM of the problem, not the cause - the people behind the cause have had the upper hand since 5 March 1980 (That's when Reagan broke the Air Traffic Contoller strike and declared their union illegal), after campaigning hard since the 1940s to breack the New Deal (recruiting evangelical america for the ride)

  9. not.known@this.address

    Did I just read that right?

    We're in the middle of a world-wide Pandemic widely believed to have started in China, and now we're celebrating China bringing moonrock back to the Earth?

    How long is Chang'e-5 going to have to quarantine for?

    1. Cynic_999

      Re: Did I just read that right?

      Firstly, if the pandemic started in China, that does not mean that the country is in any way to blame, any more than Iceland is to blame for the pollution caused by a volcanic eruption in that country. Secondly, there is considerable doubt as to whether it actually did originate in China, seeing that it has been discovered that there were people in other countries who contracted the disease prior to the Chinese outbreak.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Did I just read that right?

        "that does not mean that the country is in any way to blame"

        I see you didn't get the memo: China is the new Bad Guy, so they are to blame for absolutely everything.

        Now there aren't any credible communists left to scare people with, the Yellow Peril will have to step in. (And no, China isn't communist, it's actually more capitalist then the USA.)

        1. llaryllama

          Re: Did I just read that right?

          China isn't communist, it's an autocratic dictatorship.

          There is a middle ground somewhere between saying that the virus was developed on purpose in a Chinese bio weapon lab and China is completely faultless in their handling of the situation.

          There is a small mountain of evidence showing China pressuring the WHO not to recommend travel restrictions and for at least a few months there was strong suppression of warnings and news by provincial level government in Hubei.

          "Communism with Chinese characteristics" is partly to blame for the initial spread due to systemic fear of speaking out or making tough decisions in the PRC political hierarchy. Supporters of democracy need to call this out instead of coddling dictators.

      2. llaryllama

        Re: Did I just read that right?

        There is no credible evidence that initial human to human contact originated anywhere but Hubei province (and no, a Global Times article is not credible evidence). Please do your homework and don't just spread CCP led conspiracy theories.

        I don't blame China for the virus existing but I do blame China and the WHO for playing down the situation because the CCP didn't want China to be affected economically.

        As of mid January the WHO - under immense pressure from top levels of Chinese government - was still advocating no restrictions to worldwide travel, anyone who suggested temporarily suspending travel from China was labeled a racist and any chance to control and isolate the virus was lost.

        Taiwan has experienced China's "nothing to worry about" line before with SARS, so travel was locked down immediately contrary to WHO guidelines and that seems to be a big part of what has kept us safe.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Did I just read that right?

          Saying that the virus may well have originated outside China is hardly a conspiricy theory. Unless of course you subscribe to the notion that any view other than your own is part of a conspiricy.

          ISTR that many countries downplayed the threat, including UK and USA and were very late in imposing lockdown or travel restrictions.

  10. ant 2

    Radar vs radio

    A distinction to make here - Arecibo was a radar telescope, that is is could send out a pulse of radio waves and then listen for the reflection. That's how it mapped asteroids and comets, which don't really emit a lot at those freqencies, and helped locate SOHO when that went AWOL.

    FAST, while it is a very capable (and yes, very big) instrument, is a radio telescope and so can only do the passive, listening, bit.

    There's a massive case for rebuilding an even better than before version of Arecibo, let's hope administrators and politicos can make it happen.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Radar vs radio

      But I'm not sure Puerto Rico is the best place for it. Probably better to put it somewhere where hurricanes don't occur and the air is dryer so the cables won't rot away when maintenance is inevitably skipped. I think the desert southwest would be ideal, and there is tons of federal land out there that's pretty much worthless.

      1. Getmo

        Re: Radar vs radio

        There's Meteor Crater, which is already in a nice dish shape.

        However it is only about 30 miles away from Flagstaff, AZ, which is a fairly large town with its own FM & AM radio stations. I'm guessing with Arecibo being a radio telescope, part of choosing its location has to do with minimizing local interference.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Radar vs radio

          Meteor crater is a tourist attraction, and way too large for this. There are plenty of places in Arizona, Nevada and Utah that aren't near big cities/transmitters (or the transmitters are blocked by mountains) and aren't in a particularly scenic area that would be diminished by a big metal dish.

      2. FILE_ID.DIZ

        Re: Radar vs radio

        I don't know... buildings seem to be engineered to withstand those conditions in thriving countries like Singapore and other tropical, hurricane/cyclone/typhoon/earthquake vulnerable areas next to the ocean.

        The problem isn't the location, it was maintenance. Given that it survived 50+ years in that environment, I think they originally solved that engineering problem.

        There is the whole matter of suspending a 900 ton deck above a dish without an apparent thought of "how do we bring this down for x"? In a replacement, I would hope that issue would be addressed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Radar vs radio

          Is it clear you ever have to lower it? If the problem is replacing cables and if there is enough margin in the design that you can remove a cable without getting it close to failure, then you can replace cables with it up there. My guess is there was enough margin since cables did break and it did not immediately collapse, it's just that the process of replacing them incrementally had not happened, perhaps ever.

          But I'm not an engineer: there may be things which really would require it to be lowered.

  11. eta-beta

    What can one expect from a science-denying president?

    The past four yours where surely the worst to expect any government funding for this, and to make matters worse it is in Puerto Rico. Wait----who is the President of Puerto Rico? I guess he found out during the paper towel giveaway!

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