A US military fighter aircraft shot down the Chinese spy balloon that had been floating across the country's airspace Saturday as it moved beyond the shores of South Carolina and over the Atlantic Ocean.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed the military downed the balloon at the direction of President Joe Biden, saying in a statement that the government believes the device was being used by the People's Republic of China "in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States."
Austin said military officials determined that shooting it down over land "posed an undue risk" to Americans and instead made plans to bring it down safely over territorial waters.
The balloon, which US officials described as a "high-altitude surveillance balloon," entered the continental airspace on Tuesday near Idaho before drifting over Montana. Chinese officials claimed that the balloon was a civilian airship with "mainly meteorological purposes" and said it ended up over the US by accident. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said officials were "confident" that wasn't the case.
In a Friday call with a top Chinese foreign affairs official, Blinken said he "made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law."
It's still unclear what the spy balloon may have learned while traveling across the country. (Officials are continuing to investigate the vessel and retrieve its debris.) But after days of breathless coverage of its intrusion into American airspace — and discourse — people on Twitter couldn't help but crack some jokes about its demise.
The presence of the big white vessel, which was described by officials to be about three buses wide, caused many to wonder why the Chinese government needed to send one at all. Aren't they already surveilling us on that app where grown adults film themselves lip-syncing to Mickey Mouse theme songs?
There must be a higher-tech and more subtle way to do this, right?
I mean, what was inside that thing??
Before the balloon was destroyed, some offered suggestions on how we could repurpose it.
And despite its short-lived run, people felt compelled to memorialize the spy balloon's life with fan edits and tributes.