I was delivering recycling workshops at an elementary school recently and a boy in grade 3 asked me “why don’t we blast our garbage into space?”
This was not the first time I’ve been asked this.
I responded that it probably won’t make us good global citizens to be sending our waste into space, but on top of that, humans have actually left a lot of waste, or space debris, around the Earth.
It is estimated there are 10 million pieces of space debris in the Earth’s orbit. While most of it is less than 1 cm in size such as paint flakes, there are larger pieces too: spent rocket stages and satellites no longer in use.
The oldest piece of human-made space junk is the Vanguard 1. The US launched it in 1958. Communication with this satellite was lost in 1964, but it’s still up there. In fact, it is estimated it will remain in Earth’s orbit for another 240 years!
Nerding it up a bit, I wondered how popular science fiction portrayed this waste issue? I don’t recall Star Trek making any mention of waste, but then again they made their food out of thin air. In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, there wasn’t any mention of waste, but they definitely had issues with drinking water. In the “real” first Star Wars, the gang escaped into a large garbage compactor (complete with swimming monster), and in The Empire Strike Backs, the Millennium Falcon escaped by hiding among jettisoned garbage. I guess Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers weren’t keen recyclers!
With the cancellation of the space shuttle program, there might not be too many North Americans heading into space over the next little while. But on the International Space Station, garbage is shipped back to Earth using an unmanned ship where it burns up in the atmosphere. We all hate it when people litter from their cars, but what about when someone litters from the Space Station?
At the moment, it doesn’t appear that governments know what to do with all of this space waste. I wonder what space will look like 10, 50, 100 years from now?