Trouble in orbit: the growing problem of space junk | BBC News
In 2014, the International Space Station had to move three times to avoid lethal chunks of space debris. The problem also threatens crucial and costly satellites in orbit. So what is the scale of the space junk problem, and what can we do about it?
Forty-five years ago the associate director of science at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center, Ernst Stuhlinger, an original member of Wernher von Braun's Operation Paperclip team, was asked by Sister Mary Jucunda, a Zambia-based nun, how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on spaceflight when many children were starving on Earth.
Today, Stuhlinger's response still provides a powerful justification for the costs associated with space research.
"It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet," he said.
"Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence."
In the intervening years, the maturing space infrastructure has supported our new and ongoing efforts to tackle global health, hunger, poverty, education, disaster risk reduction, energy security and climate change.
Indeed, we have made great use of Stuhlinger's "mirror" to meet many of society's biggest challenges.
Sadly, the space environment has borne the brunt of our increasing reliance on satellites and our long-lived belief that "space is big".
More than 5,000 launches since the start of the space age, each carrying satellites for Earth observation, or communications, for example, have resulted in space becoming increasingly congested and contested...
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