The Washington Post

State Department vs. space junk

(Illustration by Chris Morris for In the Loop.)

But now we’re hearing litterers are junking up outer space as well. In fact, there are some 21,000 pieces of space junk — weighing about 6,600 tons — out there. Some of it is “dead” satellites or spent booster rockets— the oldest piece of junk still in orbit, the State Department says, is the Vanguard I satellite, launched in 1958.

And there’s hundreds of thousands of other objects too small to track that can damage satellites and the International Space Station. Then there’s stuff astronauts dropped, such as a glove, cameras, a wrench, pliers, a tool bag and a toothbrush, the department said.

No problem when it was just us and the Soviets. Now there are about 60 countries plus all sorts of commercial and academic satellite operators, the State Department says, “creating an environment that is increasingly congested.” (Sounds like they could try HOV lanes?)

Add this to potential damage Tuesday to communications and such from the biggest solar storm in years.

So Washington “has decided to join with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week. The first extraterrestrial anti-litter campaign.

A toothbrush?

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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