View of satellite population including space debris - taken from low Earth orbit.
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Junk in Space!
News story originally written on June 30, 1997
Whether on Earth or in Space, human activity creates waste. Like the Earth's environment, the space environment is getting more and more cluttered. There are currently millions of man-made orbital ruins that make up "space junk". Unfortunately, the past 30 years of space exploration have generated a lot of junk. Orbital debris includes things such as hatches blown off space modules, paint fragments from the space shuttle, or satellites that are no longer in use.
Man-made debris orbits at a speed of roughly 17,500 miles/hour! Think of the damage even a small speck of paint could do if it hit a spacecraft at such a high speed!
Spacecraft must be protected by shields that are not hurt when they get hit with space junk. NASA tested different types of shielding in the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF). The LDEF was put in orbit April 1984 by the Shuttle Challenger. It was collected 5.7 years later.
Besides having shielding from space junk, a spacecraft can move out of the way to avoid getting hit by debris. Currently, the Aerospace Corporation in California is making a center that will help space mission planners avoid impacts with space junk.
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