The U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, tracks about 10,000 objects or pieces of space junk in low-Earth orbit (300 to 1,200 miles up), and most, if not all, of these are man-made.
They consist of about 100 space probes, 3,000 satellites (functional and not), and around 6,000 bits and pieces: lumps and chunks of debris. This sounds like a lot, but it’s not even the half of it. Space Command can’t detect items smaller than a baseball if they’re farther than 600 miles away.
Most satellites alone are at least 22,000 miles away, where objects must be considerably bigger to be seen by Space Command. One 1999 study suggested that, in reality, there were at least 110,000 objects measuring a half inch or more, weighing over 4 million pounds altogether, and traveling at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour in low-Earth orbit.
Rubber sealing rings, paint, screws, whole and partial nonworking satellites, fuel tanks, and the like are just some of the trash we’ve put into space.
When a mere flying speck of paint can dent the outside of a space-shuttle window, keeping tabs on these hurtling objects becomes a matter of utmost importance, to say the least. NASA continues to work on ways of cleaning up these hazards.
Here are some of the more intriguing items lostor not so lostin space:
Edward White, astronaut on the 1965 Gemini 4 mission, lost a glove. It stayed in orbit for a month before careening off. During its month-long orbit, it became known as the most dangerous garment in history, flying at a speed of 28,000 kilometers an hour.
During the first ten years of its mission, space station Mir “dropped” over 200 items. Ironically, most of them were trash bags.