Decades worth of man-made space junk is floating around in orbit above the earth and it’s a crowded cosmic trash dump that has the attention of NASA and other space experts.
According to the NASA’s Oribital Debris Program Office at Johnson Space Center, there are more than 9,000 pieces of space junk big enough to be identified and tracked, and many more too small to keep tabs on. Most of the debris consists of parts from old rockets and satellites that are eventually pulled back into the earth’s atmosphere and either burn up or crash to the ground. Dr. Carolyn Sumners is the director of astromony at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and says some of the junk is lost as space vehicles leave earth’s atmosphere and other objects are simply worn out satellites and other equipment.
Although the junk field is spread out over a huge area, there is still a chance that a space vehicle, like the Space Shuttle, could encounter debris that could cause damage. The Interntational Space Station even has a shield to deflect space junk.
Lawrence Pinsky is the chair of the physics department at the University of Houston and says as far-fetched as it sounds, there could be space junk-collecting missions in the future.
Pinsky says tracking the debris only does so much good, with many more pieces of junk that haven’t been pinpointed and tracked.
One of the biggest pieces of soon-to-be space junk is the Hubble Space Telescope, which weights about 13 tons. Officials will most likely control its re-entry into earth’s atmosphere and make sure it lands in the water and not on land where it could cause massive damage if it hit in the wrong area.