After more than 60 years of launching objects into space, thousands of pieces of debris are now racing around the Earth, endangering spacecraft and the lives of astronauts. Most of the space junk is small pieces of metal cast off from satellites and used rockets. But like bullets, the tiny objects are traveling so fast that they can do tremendous damage to the operational satellites we depend on for communication and finding our way around our the planet. Russia recently made the problem worse when it tested an anti-satellite weapon. Debris from that test forced space station astronauts to seek shelter in docked spacecraft.
Class discussion: Can anything be done to clean up or limit the accumulation of junk orbiting the Earth? Before Russia’s test in November, China, India and the United States all tried out their satellite killers and spread debris into orbit. Is the race to control and exploit space making it more dangerous? Should private companies in different nations continue with plans to launch thousands of tiny satellites to beam high-speed internet service down to Earth? Is it possible for any international agency to control what happens in the space around our world? How would life on Earth change if growing space debris makes most satellites unusable?