Space Junk... Mar 13, 2006 21:20:26 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Mar 13, 2006 21:20:26 GMT -6
Space: The final junkyard
Outer space is fast filling up with human-generated junk, from exploded satellites to leaky nuclear reactors, and the debris threatens the safety of cosmic exploration.
International agencies have met for years to try to solve the problem. One possible solution is to encourage space-launching nations to build sturdier rockets that don't blow up in space and spew debris everywhere, ones that burn up in the Earth's atmosphere upon their return.
Space junk ranges from human waste to a discarded Russian spacesuit. The latter was recently dumped by the crew of the international space station; later this year, it should fall back to Earth in a blaze of glory. In the 1960s, U.S. tracking systems monitored an American astronaut's discarded glove, which eventually returned to Earth. This summer, a Russian cosmonaut reportedly plans to hit a gold-plated golf ball from the international space station as part of a paid promotional stunt for a golf-club firm in Toronto. That'll add to the floating litter.
About 18 collisions of existing satellites -- 11 of them "catastrophic" to the objects that collide -- will probably occur over the next 200 years, even if Earth never launches another rocket, reported two officials at NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office in Houston in the Jan. 20 issue of Science magazine. In reality, wrote Jer-Chyi Liou and Nicholas Johnson, the actual number of collisions "will undoubtedly be worse" because new spaceships -- that is, future space debris -- are continually being launched.
Among the stranger debris is a Russian satellite with an onboard nuclear reactor that is "leaking liquid metal -- something like 70,000 blobs of liquid metal (so far)." He said the world's space agencies are collaborating on ways to develop anti-debris protocols for future launches.
Full story here: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/03/12/SPACEJUNK.TMP
Where is Fred Sanford now?