Humankind’s Celestial Litterbug Footprint

Ponder this for a moment: while much is being done to combat our carbon footprints on earth, what of the great beyond?

According to space agencies, since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, almost 6,000 satellites have been launched raising grave questions on the pollution of space by humankind.

Thousands of kilometers above our heads circulate debris of expeditions and broken satellites, while of the 6,000 sent, only 600-800 are still active.


Once many have completed their mission, countries endeavour to destroy the satellite; last January China exploded the device and thereby contributed to the estimated 10 million pieces of debris that are rendering space essentially a dustbin.

Such debris also poses risks to current missions – last February a U.S. telecommunications satellite collided with a Russian sat that had been dead for 10 years, while in January two satellites collided over Siberia.


The sheer speed involved in such a collision is astonishing: as each travelled at approximately 17,000 miles per hour relative to the earth, they approached each other at almost 22,000 miles per hour.

While it is rare for parts of the vast debris to fall to earth, it is equally not unknown: in 2008 an Australian farmer discovered an large piece of satellite on his land.

As countries continue to out-do one another in celestial feats, so too is the likelihood of such collisions on the increase as ‘traffic jams’ ensue.


The issue has lead to the United Nations adopting a set of debris mitigation guidelines that will compel countries to remove their redundant debris to make way for more commercial and scientific satellites.

The notion of space traffic jams and millions of pieces of debris circulating above transforms today’s tranquil blue sky into a veritable mask of the staggering legacy of humankind, the most active space litterbugs.

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This entry was posted on March 2, 2009 by in Frivolities & Miscellaeny and tagged , , .
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