Friday, May 15, 2009

Made In China Recall of Galactic Proportions

We’re all unfortunately all too familiar with toys, dog food and other goods that weren’t so good made in China, being recalled. The latest recall won’t affect you – unless you are an astronaut orbiting the Earth.

This past week NASA reported that during a spacewalk between the Shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts had to clean up the infamous Asian country’s space debris, which almost hit the shuttle.

The debris was left over space junk, from a Chinese anti-satellite test, where the Chinese intentionally blew up one of their own satellites, in 2007.

Orbiting our home, planet Earth from about 350 miles (that’s 653KM) high, Atlantis and the Hubble are both at greater risks to impact from space debris, because this orbit is slightly higher than the one used normally for the International Space Station. That lower orbit is about 220 miles (354 KM) above the Earth.

If the shuttle were to be hit by space debris, it could prove to be fatal for the astronauts, as that tiny spacecraft is their home while in space, and their only way back to Earth.

NASA usually moves plots courses for the shuttle away from any space junk, but in this case that wasn’t possible, because of the location of the Hubble space telescope.

Regardless of the risks to the shuttle, the Hubble, the space station, and anything else that we humans have put in space, junk is junk.

Isn’t it interesting how, despite global efforts to protect our environment down here on our home, planet Earth, the second we leave the confines of that home, we forget our manners and simply toss whatever we don’t need or want wherever we are?

If you toss a piece of trash out the window while zooming across town, you’re bound to get the irate look of anger and protest from more than a few people these days. But astronauts – that have a breath-taking view of our Earth from an envious position – simply discard their trash wherever they can.

Granted, the size of some of this space junk is about the same size as a small car, and much of the space debris is left to burn up in our atmosphere once its orbit decays.

However, because there isn’t any atmosphere in space, unwanted materials – space junk – in high orbits can remain in that orbit, or move off and coast through uncharted space, forever. There aren’t any environmental or microbial bacteria in space to decompose this space junk.

This isn’t just NASA’s fault, but all countries are to blame for creating a disposable society in the stars. Space debris litters the darkness around our globe from many just about every country that has ever sent anything past our atmosphere.

Scientists – and astronauts are in many ways the ultimate scientist, as they perform all types of experiments in labs which most can never see – are all acutely aware of the need to reduce, recycle and re-use. So how come the scientists which put people and machines high above in space, don’t practice the three-R’s?

It isn’t rocket science to pick up after one’s self. If scientists can figure ways to put stuff in space, they should also plan on how to remove that stuff once it is no longer needed. Failing that, fails us all, and leaves a legacy of waste beyond our home, planet Earth.

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