Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fighting the Space Junk

Here's some good news: President Obama's new space policies include a new emphasis on cleaning up space junk.

As we pointed out a while back, it's starting to get crowded up there. After 50 years in space, we've left quite a horde of decommissioned satellites, jettisoned modules and miscellaneous debris floating in orbit (and you might recall China's decision to blow up a satellite back in 2007, turning one big piece of space junk into thousands of tiny pieces of space junk). And even though space is still very empty (the diagram above is obviously not to scale), the presence of this garbage is still a major hazard. It's especially difficult to track the small pieces, and you never know when something might come careening toward the International Space Station, for instance -- puncturing some vital piece of equipment, or perhaps the spacesuit of an unlucky astronaut on a spacewalk. Satellites, of course, are equally vulnerable to interference from space debris.

So let's hope they can work it out. Clean-up will be a tall order, but prevention is a good first step.

Check out another illustration of the space junk problem here.

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