On the Spot: Melissa R. Butts

The final frontier is getting pretty cluttered, thanks to roaming debris like rocket boosters and defunct satellites. The new film “Space Junk 3D” highlights the issues scientists face regarding extraterrestrial cleanup and the very real potential for floating-garbage-related catastrophe. Director Melissa R. Butts spoke about the problem ahead of a Friday talk and screening of the film with fellow filmmaker Kimberly Rowe and National Air and Space Museum geographer Andrew Johnston

Have we even attempted to clean up all the space junk up there?
No cleanup efforts are under way; these are ideas being discussed. Our film raises awareness of the possibilities, and I hope it captures it in a way that is very aspirational. Because it’s going to be the young people today who work to execute the solutions to clean up space.

How many objects are up there?
There’s a list of 24,000 pieces. A lot of those are huge, the size of a school bus. So, the target is to go after those things and remove them from low-Earth orbit. The problem is it’s hard to do it.

Is there a plan in place?
The idea is to try and capture things that are one ton or more. By the year 2020, we need to start removing five tons of junk a year for the next 100 years to keep the low-Earth orbit just as it is now. It’s a pretty powerful [thought].

National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; Fri., 7 p.m., $7-$13; 202-633-1000. (Smithsonian)

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