Monday, October 3, 2011

We're Going Down With This Sinking Ship

We're Going Down With This Sinking Ship

I see you there chucking your In-n-out garbage out the window on the 5 freeway. Not a care in the world on how much of a mess this city, country, world is getting with your pollution. No sir, you don't give no shit about that. You figure that by the time that we get to the point where we're standing in garbage piles we'll just pull a Wall-E and blast off into orbit.

Well, I hate to be that person, but it doesn't look like that's much of an option anymore.

You see, it's gotten to the point that there's so much shit in space now that it's almost impossible to avoid colliding with debris. This means that our satellite communications can potentially be compromised and we severely jeopardize any future manned missions. That's assuming that any are actually planned for that matter. But yeah, we've pretty much trashed space.
It's bad news for all you aspiring space tourists out there. Soon, the only ticket into space may be of the suborbital variety and nothing more ambitious, like actually flying into orbit.

Earth is now surrounded by so much space junk that a leading expert on the issue has declared that we are at a "tipping point" -- it may soon become too dangerous to venture into low-Earth orbit (LEO) through fear of having a manned spaceship punctured or a communications satellite trashed.

Ex-NASA scientist Donald Kessler led a National Research Council study into the orbital situation, and the outlook is grim. In Thursday's announcement on the study's findings, the amount of orbital rubbish "has reached a tipping point, with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures."

This is the nightmare scenario of the Space Age, and Kessler is all-to familiar with its ramifications.

In 1978, when working in NASA's Environmental Effects Project Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston, The Great Shit Wastes, he developed what became known as the "Kessler Syndrome."

As a space debris expert, Kessler realized that at some point in the future, after mankind has dumped all kinds of refuse, dead satellites, and nuts and bolts in LEO, the condition may be met when collisions between pieces of space junk become commonplace. After each collision, more and more pieces of debris are created, causing further collisions -- a cascade effect would follow. Kessler now has the dubious pleasure of having a space "syndrome" named after him.

"We've lost control of the environment," he said. And he's not wrong -- more junk is being left in orbit than ever and we have no way (yet) of removing the trash.

Although we may not be seeing the Kessler Syndrome in full-swing, there have been two recent incidents that dramatically demonstrate what's going on above our heads.

In 2009, two satellites -- a defunct Soviet-era satellite and a functioning Iridium communications satellite -- smashed into one other at a relative speed of 7.2 miles per second, creating 1,700 pieces of debris large enough to be tracked from Earth. Each of those chunks of shredded satellite became more pieces of space junk to be avoided.

When you consider how big space is (even in LEO) and the vanishingly small likelihood of two spacecraft bumping into one another, you suddenly realize that it must be getting crowded up there.

However, the worst contributor to the space junk problem came two years earlier when the Chinese tested an anti-satellite missile on their Fengyun-1C satellite. The system obviously worked; over 2,700 pieces of the destroyed craft remain in orbit today.

These two incidents doubled the amount of debris buzzing around.

So what can be done?

The study doesn't thoroughly examine the ways we might clean up our orbital neighborhood -- although it does single out some ideas examined by DARPA -- but it does stress that we need to act soon, before it's too late.

Ha ha ha. And thus goes to show you why we can't have nice things.

When I was younger I read an article in Wired that they were working on cleaning up the space trash, so like everything else, I'm going to wait in naive comfort as experts solve the problem. Maybe now with it getting this bad that new satellites are a problem to set up they'll stop wasting money on stupid useless space crap and start fixing things here on earth...... ha! Just kidding, bring on some more F222's!

You're probably wondering why this is such a big deal. Well, take a look at the following picture and take a guess at what hit this shuttle in space:

Small and mighty: A tiny impact crater remains in the front window of shuttle Challenger after its STS-7 mission. It is thought to have been caused by nothing more than a fleck of paint.

Apparently an object larger than 10 cm in length and that's the minimum size object Nasa tracks passed within 1100 meters of the international space station the other month. Just think. One day an astronaut is going to be killed by Neal Armstrong's frozen turd.

I guess the first thing to worry about is the satellites. How are we going to progress to improved communications if we can't get any more satellites up there. How will I ever check my fantasy football roster while watching the Raiders lose and playing angry birds on my phone?! The horror!

Well, it looks lie this is all bad news for all you aspiring space tourist out there. Space exploration has become nothing more than a dumb pipe dream. Which I guess is a bit of a change from being some rich white super fantasy now with all that space garbage up there. Unless we plan on launching a giant chunk of aerogel into orbit. Sponsored by Swiffer, the Swiffer Space Broom. In stores now.

The upside to all this is that at least humans won't be able to leave this planet and ruin other such nice planets. Maybe this was the last dying gambit of a self aware planetary system trying desperately to quarantine the plague that of which is named Man.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against space travel. It has brought us great leaps and bounds in the progress of technology and scientific studies. Not to mention the general principle is a pretty cool idea, but I'm against it for the sole purpose for humans because we're shit and will utterly destroy anything we touch.

It's just our nature. Yeah, adventurers going through new lands discovered a lot of cool things. Erik the Red, Columbus, etc. But really, they were all pretty terrible people in general.

Do you remember that part in the beginning of Wall-E when the camera zooms down towards our dead world and there's a ton of space shit in the way. Well, that's going to be what happens except there won't actually be cupcakes-in-cups and heartwarming robot genesis re-enactments because we'll all be dead.

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