Everywhere humans have ever gone, they have left garbage in their wake. This includes space, too. Right now, there are thousands of man-made satellites orbiting Earth, most of which can be classified as space junk. Obviously, with so much floating around space, it is only natural that space program planners are growing increasingly concerned, a fact borne out by pieces of space junk set to buzz the International Space Station (ISS) today and tomorrow.
According to space.com, NASA in partnership with Rocosmos, the Russian Space Agency, are making plans for a ‘debris avoidance maneuver,’ just in case the pieces of an old Russian satellite and Indian rocket get too close.
The good news: NASA and the Russians are merely being cautious as no imminent danger is expected.
Ironically, despite being a multi billion dollar, international project, the ISS was never designed as a cosmic battleship. As per specifications, the ISS is built to withstand impacts from bodies only a centimeter wide. Now, while that may not seem like anything huge, when considering that the ISS is traveling at over 17,000 mph (several times faster than any bullet), an impact from anything will be magnified a lot thanks to the impactor’s momentum.
Being man’s only outpost in space, the area around the ISS is constantly monitored for possible threats coming in the form of space junk. Especially watched is the so-called ‘pizza box’ closest to the station that measures, in all, 1.5 x 25 x 25 miles. Anything found to be coming inside this area is considered a possible threat and the crew is immediately warned so that evasive maneuvers can be taken (if the object is found in time) or an evacuation can be planned should the object not be detected in time for any response on the part of the ISS.
In the case of an emergency evacuation, the same Soyuz capsules that ferry crews to and from the ISS would serve as emergency escape pods.
When plans for the ISS were drawn up over a decade and a half ago, the situation in space was much different as there was only a fraction of the debris floating around that there is today. Now, as future space stations are being planned, designers will undoubtedly want to give more consideration to armor protection because, as more missions are flown into space, the cosmos is only going to get more and more littered.
Want to see the ISS for yourself? Well, there’s good news as it will be making passes over North America on September 28, 30, October 1, and 2. For exact times, go to Spaceweather’s Simple Satellite Tracker, enter your U.S. or Canadian zip code, and see when the ISS will be passing through your sky. International readers, a trip to Heavens Above will be enlightening for you.
Planning to do some space station watching in the Cleveland area? Well be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock as the close approach date nears. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you
Hit the ‘subscribe’ button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
Cleveland Astronomy Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy