Space is full of dan­ger­ous lit­ter – and we haven’t yet cleaned up any of it

DRUM - - In The Classroom -

ATE one night in 1997 Lot­tie Williams was on a walk in the Amer­i­can state of Ok­la­homa when she saw a streak of light in the sky, then felt some­thing drop down on her shoul­der. It turned out to be a small chunk from a Delta rocket that had fallen from space.

Luck­ily Lot­tie wasn’t hurt – and just as for­tu­nately this re­mains the only known case of a per­son be­ing hit by a piece of space junk. In al­most 60 years that hu­mans have been go­ing to space, we’ve left so much de­bris up there that it may be putting us all in dan­ger.

Space de­bris not only falls to Earth – it can also col­lide with a space­walk­ing as­tro­naut or a work­ing satel­lite.

The In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) has had to move po­si­tion a few times to get out of the way of de­bris.

Sci­en­tists are look­ing at ways of ad­dress­ing the prob­lem, such as build­ing space­craft that can col­lect the junk.


It’s a col­lec­tion of dis­carded man-made ob­jects or­bit­ing Earth. These in­clude old satel­lites, spent rocket stages and frag­ments from dis­in­te­gra­tions, ero­sion and col­li­sions be­tween satel­lites and other ob­jects. It can travel at speeds of up to 28 163km/h, fast enough for a rel­a­tively small piece of or­bital de­bris to dam­age a satel­lite or space­craft. This air­craft holds the world record for be­ing the fastest manned air­craft. Its max­i­mum speed was mach 6,72 (about 7 200km/h).

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