We no longer only litter and pollute our land, water, and air. The human way of exploiting our surroundings has reached a new height, literally, as we have transcended beyond earthly boundaries and are invading Space itself.
Launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union, Sputnik 1 was the first successful artificial satellite to orbit around the Earth. Subsequently, the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War rivals, immersed in an elaborate space race to establish dominion over the other. The space race effectively ended a few years after the United States’ successful landing on the moon in 1969 and the Soviets incurring four failed moon-landing attempts in the years following this. Sixty years since Sputnik 1, humanity has bowled numerous spacecraft and rockets into the vast expanse of space enveloping our earth.
The status quo of space junk according to The World Economic Forum is that 6,000 satellites are presently orbiting our planet, of which 3,600 are dysfunctional or dead. These statistics lead us to the jarring realization that more than half of the satellites lodged around the Earth are space junk. At present, thousands of tiny screws and nuts to broken parts from collisions or explosions to enormous, complete satellites that are no longer in use traverse the realm of our Space as debris.
Reports show that about a thousand satellites will be dispatched into space per year in this decade. This number is four times that of the previous decade and is bound to keep increasing in the future. When it comes to the generation of debris of any kind, the more is never the merrier option. The more man-made space projects and ventures, the more space debris we are generating. Researchers predict that the Earth might soon have rings made of space junk orbiting around it like the planetary dust rings of Saturn. In short, we humans are preparing for a self-induced war that we do not stand a chance at winning.
Ron Garen, who worked on the International Space Station for 6 months has observed the beauty of life the way most others can only dream about. He records that the Earth is a truly stunning sight with all its diverse sweeps of terrains and forests, snow-capped mountains, vast blue seas, as well as the evidence of human existence in the actively twinkling cities during the night. “Because our planet is surrounded by this cloud of space debris,” he says, space pollution is developing an unprecedented impediment in observing the earth from space and vice versa. Space junk reflecting sunlight is proving to be a major hindrance in the day-to-day study of astronomers.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s milestone ‘trip’ to Space in 2021 is certainly the first of many such travel expeditions to come by. The giant space stations, space travel, tourism and entertainment zones, and even space civilizations are no longer only absurd imaginations from the pages of your sci-fi novels. Considering the direction we are headed in terms of astronomical and space exploration, these might become very normal and quintessential parts of human life that nobody questions, like how mobile phones did not exist a century ago but have become integral parts of our life in the 21st century. The more commercialization and privatization that Space undergoes, the more profit-oriented the scenario is going to be, and a new kind of ‘space race’ is doomed to take over. become and the more space junk we are bound to create.
But why does space junk matter so much? How much can these floating metals that are miles away affect us? Major Paul Land gives us the answer with his warning that “Everyone here should care about what’s going on with space objects and space debris,” because humans largely rely on technology more than anything else nowadays. If a satellite incurs damage due to fast-moving space debris (They can reach up to 29,000 kilometers per hour.) which is hardly even the size of a bolt, any technology-dependent system like ATM withdrawals to GPS tracking internet usage might completely crash. Damage to satellites is a threat to the use of technology itself.
Or worse, the increasing Space pollution might trigger a domino effect of space junk collisions that will increase the density of unwanted litter around the planet, making Earth’s orbit basically unusable to satellites.
Trey Livingston, an Orbital Space Analyst states to our shock that “Even a piece of debris the size of a small screw could destroy a Space Station. You can think of a two-centimeter ball bearing up in space, traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. That force is equivalent to a Jeep Wrangler traveling at 70 miles per hour.”
The adverse threat that space junk poses to our livelihood is only now beginning to get attention in serious discourses. Scientists have started sending space whips to jolt debris out of the Earth’s orbit using giant magnets, nets, and harpoons, as well as working on obliterating space junk with the help of Earth’s atmosphere. Japanese space scientists are trying their hand at constructing the world’s first wooden satellite. However, the noose is tightening ever so slightly every single day. To ensure that we do not damage our Space beyond repair, we can no longer afford to be ignorant of space pollution and its impacts. The world’s nations need to roll up their sleeves and act on resolving this issue immediately.
- “Space is not a trash can,” says scientist about worsening debris problem – The Swaddle
- Space Junk Around the Earth – DCODE by Discovery
- Space Race – Wikipedia