A discarded Russian satellite was headed for the International Space Station yesterday, threatening to destroy the station and kill the astronauts. 3 Russians, 2 Americans, and a Dutch astronaut were forced to take shelter in two Soyuz escape craft. NASA said that it could not determine the size of the object approaching the station, although even small objects can cause large damage when traveling at very large speeds. They do know that it was debris from Kosmos 2251 which had already hit an Iridium Communications satellite in 2009 at a combined speed of 42,000 MPH, destroying it and causing about 2,000 more pieces of space junk to be created. As space collisions become more frequent, yet more debris will be created and this will make low Earth orbit an increasingly dangerous place.
While there are some plans to de-orbit dead satellites, nobody seems to be jumping forward with enough funding to implement these ideas. It is unfortunately simpler to just try to forget about a dead satellite than to try to send someone or something into space to try to retrieve or safely destroy it. It has been warned that space travel could be completely unviable due to the massive amount of space junk traveling at extremely high velocities. While current attempts at refueling satellites may make them operational for longer periods of time and makes less launches into space necessary, it seems that low Earth orbit is going to be an increasingly dangerous place to work and live for astronauts aboard the I.S.S. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take a major disaster like the destruction of the I.S.S. or loss of life before methods are put in place to reduce the amount of dangerous space junk in orbit.