In case you missed it in yesterday's NYTimes, there was a particularly disturbing article on space debris, unintended consequences, and short-sighted design. Here are the first 4 paragraphs. (The rest is just as bad.)
For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.
In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass--or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable--they grew more anxious.
Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.
Now, experts say, China's test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars' worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanitys reach for the stars.
Photo from The New York Times