Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Inevitable Orbital Apocalypse

I apologize for my third post in a row inspired by a news article, but dammit this is nuts:

Orbiting Junk, Once a Nuisance, Is Now a Threat

Published: February 6, 2007

For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.

In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass — or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable — they grew more anxious.

Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.

Now, experts say, China’s test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars’ worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity’s reach for the stars.

Federal and private experts say that early estimates of 800 pieces of detectable debris from the shattering of the satellite will grow to nearly 1,000 as observations continue by tracking radars and space cameras. At either number, it is the worst such episode in space history.

Today, next year or next decade, some piece of whirling debris will start the cascade, experts say.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE F*&%ING KIDDING ME. Um... for decades, we’ve known that there will soon be a catastrophic space debris chain reaction? Why is February 7, 2007 the first time I’ve heard of this? Talk about leaving me out of the loop. Thanks, NASA. Pricks.

This is very troublesome. Earth is going to be surrounded by a thin, eternally-colliding layer of chain-reacting space crap? And may I please just pause to dwell on one of the main foci of the article: China is shooting MISSILES at SATELLITES? And HITTING THEM? When did all this happen? I never imagined, back in middle school when I spent all afternoon, every afternoon, reading science fiction story anthologies in the basement, that I’d be living through such bizarre sh*t. In most of those stories, mankind had to set off for other planets because atomic war or centuries of overpopulation or plague had ruined the environment. Ha. We’ve pretty much done the job already. All it took was a little CO2 and some splintered Chinese satellites. New Orleans and Jakarta are underwater, and soon the skies will be filled with a fine particulate maelstrom of exploded satellite components. Fan-frigging-tastic.

Sign me up for Moon Base Alpha.

1 comment:

BZ said...

I have been reading all your post, but I had to comment on this one. Great job. Very funny and well said.