What pollution in the final frontier says about us



I’ve always thought that if you want to understand how something is going to affect a system, it is sometimes helpful to look at a system that is fragile or extreme.

This image, created by the European Space Agency, depicts all known objects – functioning and dead – in orbit around earth. The size of an object corresponds to its actual density data, but (obviously) not to scale. Interestingly, every year we add 200 objects to this image, and that’s not counting the thousands of pieces that are created whenever any two objects collide.  There are currently 17,000 known pieces of space debris larger than 10 cm and an estimated 10,000 pieces smaller than 10 cm.

What I find fascinating about this image is how it demonstrates that even in the vastness of space our failure to recycle and not plan for obsolescence leaves us with tens of thousands of pieces of space junk whirling around above us. That may sound harmless but understand that a piece of metal the size of a bolt, flying at the expected speed of 36,000kmph (or 21,600 mph) has the kinetic energy of a 400-lb safe traveling at 60 mph. Needless to say, such an object slamming into a satellite, or worse, a space station, could generate some pretty dramatic results. Indeed, there was a real fear last week that this was about to happen.

We need a whole new way of managing what we create, to engineer it to from cradle to cradle, both up in space and of course, down here on earth.

4 thoughts on “What pollution in the final frontier says about us

  1. Joseph

    I'm completely for the better solution you are advocating, but here's hoping some great minds (and the non-believing flat-earthers who fund them ;) are working on a solution to begin retrieving or steering to lower orbit (or pulverizing) the objects building up there now.

  2. JimBobby

    Whooee! Dang right we're a buncha numbnutses when it comes to reduce, re-use, recycle. It don't seem to matter whether it's a candy wrapper or a bundle of spent nuclear fuel rods, we'll toss it in the first place we think of without regard to the impact on ol' Mother Earth.First thing to do when you realize yer accumulatin' too much stuff is to quit creating more of it until you figger out what to do with the mess you've already made. Up in space, we won't learn the danger of throwin' trash out the windows until it causes some deaths and billions of lost bucks. same thing down here on earth. JB

  3. MoS

    For years the math boys have been warning of the mathematically inevitable “cascade” when a couple of disastrous satellite/space debris collisions throw enough junk into the orbital belt that they reach a critical mass after which the enitre satellite system commits fratricide. Imagine a world so massively dependent on satellites for essential communications, navigation and surveillance going blind and mute. Losing our satellite nets would be bad enough but those looking into this warn that the debris fields would render these orbital belts unusuable for up to sixty years. Try using your ATM when the sats go down. It would be like reverting to the 70's.

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