Only a handful of humans have ever stepped foot outside the Earth’s atmosphere but somehow, our species have already found a way to create an epic mess in our planet’s backyard – and it may become a huge problem for astronauts soon.
Not All that Goes Up Can Come Down
There are currently millions of pieces of debris in the Earth’s atmosphere due to the satellites and rockets sent out into space – and the space pollution is becoming a huge concern to space agencies which have been able to track more than 750,000 pieces of junk in our planet’s orbit.
The problem can quickly get out of hand if the debris multiplies over time, making it harder – and even impossible – to send anything out into the space again. We’re could literally be stuck on Earth forever if we aren’t careful enough.
Accidents Happen in Space
Most of the rockets and satellites sent out into space go through wear and tear over time or get hit by other pieces of debris to break up into tiny pieces and continue orbiting around the Earth faster than the speed of sound. The space junk problem has exacerbated over the past years as numerous accidents have led to the addition of thousands of pieces of debris into the Earth’s atmosphere – with each tiny piece able to cause significant damage to other satellites and rockets in its path.
The China’s anti-satellite missile testing caused a huge spike in space pollution by leaving dangerous satellite fragments in an area between 200 to 2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Two years later, another accident created a massive storm of debris in Earth’s orbit after a defunct satellite collided with another communication satellite. If this trend continues over the next few decades, the Earth’s atmosphere will be completely filled with space junk, making it impossible for astronauts to get out.
Every Little Bit of Space Junk Matters
You’re probably thinking that tiny pieces of debit the size of a marble can’t really cause that big of a damage – but you’re wrong. NASA recently reported that they’ve had to replace the glass windows on a number of space shuttles after they were hit by tiny flecks of paint but collision with a single fragment as small as the size of a marble could have chaotic consequences for the spacecrafts.
Currently, there are more than 500,000 such fragments in space orbiting at a dangerous speed along with over 20,000 pieces of larger space junk the size of a softball. Many experts are predicting that our planet’s orbit will soon become completely unusable due to the sheer the number of fragments in the space which threaten to create a cascade of collision at any moment.
Avoiding Collisions Not as Easy as is Seems
With NASA and other space agencies continuously monitoring the debris in the Earth’s orbit, it’s easy to assume that they can accurately predict the pathway of the dangerous fragments and prevent collision with a space shuttle, but, in fact, it isn’t as easy to avoid accidents in space as it may seem.
Over the past, scientists have observed strange gravitational anomalies which have affected the path of the orbiting objects, making it difficult for space agencies to predict collision. The infamous accident of 2009 when two satellites hit each other wasn’t supposed to happen if NASA’s prediction would have been accurate.
NASA’s Prevention Plan
Fortunately, there could be a way to avoid a catastrophe in space due to collision with the debris, and scientists have already begun working on a prevention plan called the Space Debris Elimination. Through this plan, NASA proposes to destabilize the orbiting debris by shooting tones of atmospheric gases into the space.
This will bring the fragments back to Earth, burning it in the atmosphere so that they don’t become a danger to the planet’s civilians. For bigger pieces of debris such as nonfunctioning satellites, NASA has suggested to send a cleaning machine called the E-DeOrbit which would catch the satellites and send them to the Earth’s atmosphere with the help of a rocket.