The 17,500mph Rubbish Tip

It amused me somewhat to read the other day about a supposed UFO sighting over the BBC building in London that was ‘filmed’ and put on YouTube. In my opinion, all UFO sightings can be discounted these days, and in fact for the last several decades, because no extraterrestrials could get near our planet because of all the garbage that is currently surrounding Earth.

Yuri Gagarin – The First Human In Space 1961

Ever since the first manned space flight by Russian Yuri Gagarin, in 1961, the level of debris floating around above our atmosphere has risen rapidly. In 1981 it was estimated there were about 5,000 items both large and small floating around the Earth. By 2011 this has increased to 22,000 known objects with a total mass of around 5,500 tonnes What will it be in 2050 – 100,000, a million? These figures do not take into account the hundreds of items that have burnt up in the atmosphere over this period.

It has become necessary for people like NASA and their Russian equivalent to use sophisticated radar to track the path of all objects in this gigantic garbage patch to avoid collisions when launching space missions.

We have already done quite a good job of turning our entire home into a waste dump (remember Plastic Island?), and have for the last four decades been equally successful with the space that surrounds it.

The International Space Station

This week the astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) had to retreat to their Soyuz rescue vehicles because of a near miss by a small object. It missed by only 250 metres. Had it hit the station, the results could have been catastrophic, and many billions of dollars would have ended up as more useless space junk.

News Report:

This is the first time such drastic action has been necessary, and it was undertaken because the piece of trash was seen too late for avoidance measures., On many occasions in the past the ISS has had to move to get it out of the trajectory of floating objects.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink!

Actually, the term ‘floating junk’ is a bit of a misnomer as the junk is not actually ‘floating’, but travelling at a speed of 17,500mph. Moving that fast, a small fleck of paint can dent a panel or crack a window on the ISS. Any astronaut on a space walk would be instantly killed by even such a small thing. Remember the old adage that a piece of straw will pass through a block of concrete if it is travelling fast enough?

 Space junk can be anything from a tool lost by an astronaut during a spacewalk to the burnt out sections of rocket boosters or dead satellites. They can vary in size from several millimetres to something the size of a small house.

Many are in low earth orbit (LEO) and eventually burn up on reentry into the atmosphere, but those further out like weather, communication, and GPS satellites in geosynchronous orbit, can be with us for years and even forever.

The Final Launch Phase – Adding To The Debris

Every time someone sends something into space we end up with burnt out rocket stages, shields, discarded satellites, Elton John’s old piano and many other bits left floating around out there and no-one seems to care. I suppose it will not be until an astronaut dies, or there is serious damage to the ISS that costs millions of dollars to repair, that someone will eventually decide to bring out the space vacuum cleaner.

Space Junk Tracking:

Some plans have already been put forward to clean up te mess, but we have yet to see one in action. One idea was to launch a satellite that carried a huge net capable of capturing  debris but so far nothing has come of it. While the idea may have some merit, it certainly hasn’t been thought through sufficiently because to cover anything like a reasonable area the net would have to be gigantic. The use of lasers has also been suggested, but to be honest, on the scale they would be required, they are still science fiction.

The Future Of ‘Taking Out The Trash’?

I wonder how long it will be before we are so swamped in trash that someone has the bright idea of sending it all to the Moon or Mars?

It seems clear to me that before Man can attain his long sought goal of reaching the stars, something will have to be done to solve the problem of all this space junk. For there can be little doubt that eventually we will seal ourselves in with an impenetrable layer of rubbish that will make space exploration a distant dream.

Roy.

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