The big picture on China's space station that fell out of the sky

Tiangong-1 astronauts
Chinese students get a live lesson from astronauts on board Tiangong-1 in 2013. Photo: STR / AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday night, Tiangong-1, China's first space station, crashed into the South Pacific Ocean, ending its 7-year orbit around the Earth. The 19,000-pound structure hasn't been visited by humans since 2013, and Beijing hasn't been able to communicate with it since 2016 — but its life and death tell the story of China's vision to conquer space.

The big picture: Tiangong-1 represented a slew of firsts for the Chinese space program. Its seven years among the stars were the culmination of the first phase of China's push to become an superpower in space.