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Lost in space

February 19, 2009 - Steve Murch
The Associated Press has a story today about space junk — man-made garbage floating in space. The AP’s proposed headline: What a mess! Experts ponder space junk problem

The story, written by Veronika Olesyn, is about what those in the know are saying should be done with the ever-increase amount of debris we put into space. There are discussions happening during a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Austria. The meeting of the group began Feb. 9 and ends Friday. The irony is that two satellites collided on Feb. 10, one day after the committee first began meeting.

The AP story begins with last week’s collision of the two satellites that created enough junk that “could circle the Earth and threaten other satellites for the next 10,000 years.” Now that’s a lasting legacy.

The debate is whether money should be spent on cleanup or finding ways to minimize potential future crashes. The AP reports, “Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris, said about 19,000 objects are present in the low and high orbit around the Earth — including about 900 satellites, but much of it is just plain junk.”

Johnson believes the best thing to do is clean up the floating debris. He suggests an alternative to going into space and getting it is to push it to a higher altitude to eliminate risk.

There are an estimated 13,000 satellites and other man-made objects orbiting Earth. That’s more than one per person living inside the Alpena city limits.

Cleaning up the debris, pushing it to a higher altitude, blowing it up ... whatever solution ... it all seems well and good, but where is the money going to come from? Chances are there will never be a cleanup, though if we keep sending stuff up there we probably need to think about it. After all, the old saying is what goes up must come down.

Just to be safe you might want to keep an eye on the sky.


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