The Earth faces an unprecedented polluted condition. Junk and debris exists on almost all the areas of the Earth, even in the seas vast swathes of pollution exists as mini-continents of plastic floating undetected. What better continuation of humanity’s ability to pollute than the confines of space itself.
Space junk refers to the amount of debris in orbit around the Earth; it is not to be confused with rubbish on a consumerist level but more to do with the functioning of man in space and space exploration in general. There are an estimated 10 million pieces in orbit right now. A rather hefty amount considering the journey into space has only really began in earnest with the lunch of the USSR satellite Sputnik in 1957.
With this junk travelling at speeds of roughly 17,500 miles/hour (28,000 km/h) the potential to cause damage to space craft and jeopardise future missions into the cosmos is alarming, if not fully realised by humanity and the various space agencies at present.
Amongst the plethora of trash found in space many odd, and somewhat strange items exist, from gloves, bolts, lens caps, 200 trash bags released from the MIR space station, a tooth brush, paint flakes, the Telstar satellite amongst others, screwdrivers, cameras, and nose cones of rockets to name are a few of the items within orbit at present. It is estimated that there is one dead junk satellite in orbit for every four in active orbit.
The idea that space debris is a direct threat to humans is very limited if not implausible. With only 13,000 pieces of substantial size (larger than a baseball) the chances of this debris making it through the atmosphere during re-entry and landing on an individual is remote although not impossible. Larger pieces are tracked from radars based on Earth at the U.S. Space Surveillance Network so the estimated impact zone can be located.
The economic cost and labour required to remove this space junk appears to make a clean-up operation unlikely. The advances in technology it would appear present no opportunities for the removal of this junk. Inventions include large fishing nets designed to scoop up the trash. However this technology remains only at a proposal phase, stuck on the confines of a designers drawing board.
And yet the environmental issue needs to be resolved if the elimination of space junk is considered to be necessary. Yet it would appear that if humanity is unable to deal with the pollution and trash that exists on the Earth at present, then the future of space junk looks like it is here to stay for the considerable future.