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Early primate hunters nearly initiated their own extinction by using the advanced technology of the time to stress their environment and hunt at unsustainable levels.  At one time, our future rested on less than 20,000 individuals world wide.  Luckily we did not die off completely and came to flourish and expand across the globe.

Despite the lessons of the past we continue to prioritize short term thinking over long term planning.  Time after time our populations smash up against the carrying capacities of the environment.  The wreckage of past societies lay quietly in the shallows of time as grim reminders of the poor choices societies have made and sadly, continue to make.

Our short shortsightedness continues to threaten our hopes for the future, as we clog the space around the earth with debris from our space programs.

Enhanced image of the "junk" that is orbiting the Earth

“There are 22,000 objects in orbit that are big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.”

Watching the space shuttle or the International space station glide through space looks serene.  A gossamer constellation hung in space.  Yet in reality the ISS is travelling at roughly 27724 km per hour around the globe.  Imagine the impact and damage when something strikes the station  going over 20,000 km/h. Yet, we are putting more garbage into orbit through our actions.

“We’ve lost control of the environment,” said retired NASA senior scientist Donald Kessler, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Since the space age began 54 years ago, civilization has littered the area just above Earth’s atmosphere with leftover boosters and other parts that come off during launches, as well as old satellites. When scientists noticed that this could be a problem, they came up with agreements to limit new space junk and those plans had been working.”

The warnings have already been issued.  As usual, we are not listening.

Those agreements are intended to make sure what is sent into orbit eventually falls back to Earth and burns up.

“But two events in the past four years — a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapon test and a 2009 crash-in-orbit of two satellites — put so much new junk in space that everything changed, the report said. The widely criticized Chinese test used a missile to smash an aging weather satellite into 150,000 pieces of debris larger than one-centimetre and 3,118 pieces can be tracked by radar on the ground, the report said.

“Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years,” Kessler said.

All that junk that means something has to be done, “which means you have to look at cleaning space,” said Kessler.”

Yes, so rather than attempting to minimize the hazards of space travel we are upping the ante with more projectiles circling the earth waiting to shred whatever happens to be in their path.  Of course we look to technology to save us once again –

“The study only briefly mentions the cleanup possibility, raising technical, legal and diplomatic hurdles. But it refers to a report earlier this year by a Defence Department science think-tank that outlines all sorts of unusual techniques. The report by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is called “Catcher’s Mitt” and it mentions harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets and even a giant dish or umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up tiny pieces of debris.

While the new report does not recommend using the technology, Kessler said it is needed. He likes one company’s idea of a satellite that is armed with nets that could be sprung on wayward junk. Attached to the net is an electromagnetic tether that could either pull the junk down to a point where it would burn up harmlessly or boost it to safer orbit.”

If that doesn’t work, we may deny ourselves the possibility of ever leaving our planet.  Of course, that is just pessimistic long term thinking…

 

 

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