Left: Image of space debris courtesy of Field of Vision website.
(Toledo, OH) The accumulated debris from human activity in space poses a significant risk to space activity, according to NASA.
An entity known as the US Space Surveillance Network tracks more than 13,000 human-made objects - with a diameter greater than four inches - orbiting the Earth. The "space junk" includes everything from rocket bodies to discarded gloves.
One of the problems with the orbiting jetsam and flotsam is the speed at which the material is traveling. Some of the objects maintain a velocity up to 17,500 MPH.
Examples of the potential damage caused by space junk are startling; the following information is from a BBC article on the phenomenon:
* A 1 mm metal chip could do as much damage as a .22-caliber long rifle bullet. Bits this size don't generally pose a large threat to spacecraft, but can erode more sensitive surfaces and disrupt missions.
* A pea-sized ball moving this fast is as dangerous as a 400-lb safe travelling at 60 mph. Debris this large may penetrate a spacecraft. If this happens through a critical component, such as the flight computer or propellant tank, this could be fatal.
* A metal sphere the size of a tennis ball is as lethal as 25 sticks of dynamite. This debris will penetrate and seriously damage a spacecraft.
Researchers are currently working on possible solutions to the problem, but funding is a perennial concern; extraterrestrial trash is certainly less glamorous than, say, designing new sateelites.