Friday, March 13, 2009

Close Call on the ISS

The Associated Press via Boing Boing puts what happened recently on the international Space Station in perspective. As you probably heard already the ISS had a very close call with space borne debris that forced all the occupants into the safty capsule until the danger had passed. How close did the junk get? Hard to say - more than likely a couple of miles, but it is possible that it may have been tens of feet.

I have mentioned this repeatedly that there is a astounding amount of material in low Earth orbit. thousands and thousands of trackable and untrackable parts and pieces just waiting to do damage. Just last month we had one satellite destroyed by a defunct Russian satellite (yes, read defunct as junk) making hundreds more pieces to track. Now the ISS has a close call. It should become brutally obvious that this problem is not going to go away but only get worse. Our habit of just throwing things away when they are useless has come back to bite us in a big way.

As it was, the crew of the ISS only had a few hours notice that they were in danger and were fully prepared to abandon the station should the need arise.

Here is how it breaks down - From the article:
  • The U.S. Space Command tracks 13,943 orbiting objects 4 inches or larger. Only about 900 of those are working satellites. The rest is litter. There are thousands more smaller pieces of junk that can't be tracked as easily.
Size is really not the issue here. Even a grain of sand going 5+ miles a second (yes that's 20,000 miles an hour) is going to do deadly damage. Last month's satellite collision may just have been the final deal breaker for the Hubble which sadly is close to the same orbital position as the debris cloud.

Safety lately has usually had tragedy would hope that we don't have to loose another space craft full of astronauts to motivate people to space as an environment every bit as important as those on Earth.

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