Space Debris

Bryn Lindblad

            For my presentation I chose the topic of space debris because it was something that I didn't know much about (and I wanted to learn about it) and I figured most other people would probably be in the same boat.  I selected three readings to cover the areas that I thought were most interesting about the topic.

            The first article, titled "Orbiting Junk, Once Nuisance is Now a Threat" written by William J. Broad appeared in the February 5, 2007 edition of The New York Times.  This article succeeded in perking my interest as it described the recent proliferation of space debris caused by the Chinese anti-satellite missile test.

            The next selection, pages 3-17 of Howard A. Baker's book titled Space Debris: Legal and Policy Implications provided a good technical description of the dangers of space debris.  It described the potential for a cascade effect, where some space debris will collide with other space debris to form still more space debris, causing the wide scale proliferation of space debris.  When this tipping point occurs, it may become too difficult and dangerous to attempt any space travel.

            Finally, in the article "Space junk – protecting space for future generations" written by Richard Crowther and featured in the May 17, 2002 edition of the magazine Science, a few "tech fixes" are discussed.  Remedies ranging from better shielded space craft to adhesive rockets that would blast debris into a depository orbit are mentioned as costly but possible measures to mitigate the problem.

            In our class discussion we touched on a variety of facets of the space debris problem.  In reaction to what he had read, Kaz exclaimed that he had known that we were messing up the Earth, but he was surprised to read that we were also destroying outer space.  Professor Everbach was reminded of the accounts we read of ancient Australians messing up their ecosystem, and concluded that we still haven't learned our lesson.  We talked about how the space race was only based on political considerations and no regard was paid to the environmental costs being left behind for thousands of years to come.

            Next we considered how this problem fit into the big scheme of things by wondering if it really mattered if we were littering space with orbital debris.  In general, we decided that the environmental issues on Earth are much more pressing since it is our current habitat, but we acknowledged that we didn't really know what use space might someday have for us.  We recognized our current uses of space, such as satellite communication and Earth monitoring, but we concluded that we could probably do without those luxuries here on Earth.  We decided that since we didn't know what we might need outer space for in the future, we should make every effort to preserve it.  I mentioned how Carl Sagan thought that the future of our species was reliant upon outer space exploration and Professor Everbach mentioned Sagan's idea of teraforming – making planetary changes to make them more conducive to human life.  We concluded by agreeing that there is a potential for teraforming, but since it would be very expensive, it was only likely to happen if it was absolutely necessary.   We decided that it was best that we do everything to make sure it wouldn't be necessary by preserving the integrity of the Earth that we live on now.

Return to ENVS2 homepage

Send message to Swarthmore College Environmental Studies

last updated 1/25/06