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Home > Universe > Outer Space > The Dangers of Space Debris and Garbage

The Dangers of Space Debris and Garbage

Submitted by: Nancy L. Young-Houser


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With space debris forming a wide-spreading mass of wreckage orbiting Earth, it should come to no surprise that astronauts were forced to flee from their International Space Station onboard a Russian escape spaceship today, due to a high-speed upcoming motor traveling in space known as "space junk" or "space debris". With the crew safely back inside after a 10-minute evacuation, maybe we should look at the fact that space debris and junk are considered serious dangers in space to not only the ISS but to over 800 commercial and military satellites, effecting everyone on earth in the long run.


Not a new thing, space debris made headlines earlier this year on February 18 when a crash between an U.S. Iridium satellite and a non-working Russian communication spacecraft had caused an expanding debris mass to develop, forming more than 600 "trackable" pieces, and growing in mass every day. Tiny shards from this mass travels at a speed of 17,500 mph and can seriously damage anything that stands in its way. The concern by NASA has increased the odds of a "catastrophic impact" of a traveling space shuttle in the Hubble's orbit from 1 in 200 to now 1 in 185.


In addition to the debris from the crash, there are over 19,000 pieces of debris in space, along with 900 satellites and 1,000 pieces which are over 4 inches in size.  According to Nicholas Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris, that sum includes trash being thrown out from manned space missions. The European Union has a "code of conduct for outer space activities" which involves situations such as caring for space and how space agencies and tourist space agencies should conduct themselves while in space.


Those who are at risk of being hit by space debris are astronauts who are on spacewalks, space shuttles, satellites, and traveling spaceships, with a focus on the upcoming Hubble servicing flight in May by the Atlantis space shuttle which will involve five spacewalks. The maintenance of the Hubble involves separate spacewalks for an installation of the telescope's batteries, installing new science instruments, installing a new camera, and a reapplication of radiation shielding. While on a spacewalk, a lot can happen to those outside the space shuttle, with the Hubble mission requiring the shuttles to enter a higher orbit than that of the International Space Station---and is where the majority of space debris is located. Which of course is not a died-in-the-wool rule or the near miss of the ISS by space debris would never have occurred.


Next to the 2009 collision in February between the US satellite and the Russian spaceship, two other 2007 situations led to a serious increase in space debris. One is when an old rocket owned by Russia that had been circling the earth had exploded, causing a very serious accident, while China shot down an aging satellite from orbit which created a vast field of fragments. But for some odd reason, when the Pentagon shot down a spy military satellite this year, both NASA and the Pentagon said there were no debris risks created which would pose risks to the ISS space shuttle. But the tiniest of metal or rock has already shown us they have the ability to inflict damage wherever they land as when it travels in orbit, it moves thousands of miles per hour. 


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Nancy L. Young-Houser is a professional writer and illustrator, in addition to providing a home for dogs on all levels of need with her best friend, Sandra Marquiss. Her writings include controversial subjects as part of the soapbox she has carried around since childhood, never leaving home without it. Part of this soapbox is her website filled with lots of four-legged information!

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