As if responsible recyclers don't have enough to do, now it is evidentwe need to consider going "out of this world".
A case in point is the recent re-entry of the NASA weather satellite.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was as big as a bus when itwas working in space. Once its orbit began to decay and it started plungingto Earth, that was a lot of mass to have no idea where it might "land."
Truth is, there is much, much more where that came from. NASA tracks19,000 objects of what it deems "significant size" that are now is space junk. If we are all sort of desensitized by large numbers, it getsworse. It is estimated there are upwards of 370,000 pieces total flyingaround the planet.
Years and years ago, there was a interest in putting unwanted junk aboarda rocket and shooting it into space. It turns out that is a little moretricky a proposition then we imagined. Too low a orbit and it comes back tohaunt us!
So Earth clean up isn't enough? Now we need to extend environmental toinclude outer space as well? Actually, we are in the process of doing that.
The Orbital Debris Program Office is at the Johnson Space Centerin Houston. Far from just tracking the stuff and saying "Houston, we have aproblem" there are some interesting ideas about what to do with it.
One suggestion is a cosmic harpoon which once securing its targetwould allow it to either be brought to a higher orbit or moved to a low,targeted, decay orbit. Burn it up safely on re entry. There is the thoughtof launching a giant magnet device that can grab hold of the unwanted stuff.
Another innovation maybe a umbrella-shaped craft that would move along andscoop up smaller debris. When I say move along, most of the items average22,000 mph so that in itself is a pretty tricky tracking path!
Why are we doing all this? For one, it's like a problem tree in the yard.It is better for us to cut it down and know where it will fall rather thanjust let nature take its course.
Another reason to clean up the outer regions of the space around the planet is to avoid collisions. What kind ofcollisions are we talking about? Say we launch a really cool cell phonesatellite. For once we have no dropped calls. Then out of nowhere a old,useless object, no bigger then a toaster, slams into it! Not only do we nolonger have reception, we have a "call" about to drop somewhere on Earth!
Taken to extremes if we don't start to clear the clutter up there, wewill be Earth bound. Launching anything will become too difficult. It willbe like getting on a freeway with too much traffic and everybody is doing22,000 mph!
So keep an eye out for new technology to make a environmental differencein space. Some day our grandkids could be the ones doing some "out of thisworld" recycling!