Space isn’t empty at all – it’s full of crap, much of it (unsurprisingly) put there by us. And much like the rubbish we leave elsewhere, orbital junk is becoming a serious problem:
The volume of man-made space debris has grown so large that scientists say garbage now poses a bigger safety threat to the U.S. space shuttle than an accident on liftoff or landing. The International Space Station occasionally fires thrusters to dodge junk.
So, what can you do? There are plenty of ideas, many of which sound like they were ganked straight from old sf dime novels:
Among the suggestions: launching big nets and large magnets to snag refuse, or using high-energy lasers to atomize debris. None of these ideas is feasible. Magnets would be useless because spacecraft contain almost no iron. Nets are almost uncontrollable. Blasting debris, meanwhile, would simply create smaller remains that would be tougher to track and produce a vast haze of shrapnel, experts say.
In short – the jury’s still out, and the problem still needs fixing. If this was a Ben Bova story, some plucky risk-taking entrepreneur would step in and make his fortune in short order…
… from which we can only conclude that life isn’t a Ben Bova story (at least, not yet). [via SlashDot; image coutesy NASA]