According to those who measure such things, there are some 17,000 pieces of manmade 'orbital debris' currently circling the Earth. Seventeen thousand out-of-date rocket stages and rocket motor slag, satellites and satellite coolant, explosion detritus ... the list goes on.
If you include all those pesky paint fragments "released by thermal stress," the number jumps to about 200,000. All this careening flotsam and jetsam is monitored so that new rockets, shuttles and other projectiles can navigate between or around them. Except for when they don't, like last week's smash-up between U.S.and Russian communication satellites, a mere 500 miles above Siberia. The Russian craft was, of course, "derelict," in contrast with our "working" Iridium model (making the planet safe for cell phones). The resulting debris clouds have been clocked moving at 660 feet per second.
As for the rest, some pieces fall back to Earth (with luck, in the middle of an ocean or desert) or disintegrate enroute, but those floating 800km up could be there for decades, and for those above 1000 km, we're talking a century or more (an educated guess) of circling around us like so much cheap jewelry.
And what about all those old episodes of I Love Lucy, The Jackie Gleason Show and The Price Is Right? Aren't they floating around up there, too? It's old news that corporations have already filed for the right to establish billboards (or their outerspace equivalents) on the moon. That should help.
Billions of miles past this obscene cosmic mess, beyond the earth's gravitational pull, somewhere in the dark, chilly expanse of interstellar space, is the one thing we've exported that may, someday, prove to be of value -- the sound recordings of Voyager 1 and 2. Spoken greetings from 55 languages, the noise of crickets, horses, cars, thunder, surf, volcanoes, earthquakes, footsteps, heartbeats, laughter. Included, too, are examples of music from around the world (China, Peru, Bulgaria, Senegal, etc., plus Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky), the songs of whales, and ... cherry on the cake, thank you NASA ... Chuck Berry's "Johnny Be Good" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night."
Dark, but for the burgeoning clutter.
Causes Barbara Szerlip Supports