Artist impression of NEAR-Shoemaker on the surface of 433 Eros.

Apr 1, 2019

Are we trashing the Solar System?

According to a recent announcement from the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), there is growing concern among engineers and astrophysicists about the amount of junk that is cluttering-up the Solar System.

“We’re all involved,” said senior researcher and lead author of the paper, Dr. Espacio Limpio of Sao Paolo University’s Department of Environmental Research Projects. Working in conjunction with NASA, Dr. Limpio established a world-wide consortium dedicated to alleviating the collection of debris and abandoned vehicles left behind by many different space missions.

As Limpio’s co-author, Mal Dechatarra wrote: “Let’s just go over the list from near to far. We sent the MESSENGER spacecraft into Mercury at more then 14,000 kilometers per hour! No telling how big a field of wreckage that created. I mean, I’m sure it’s more like molten metal and plastics, but it certainly doesn’t belong on Mercury.”

Most of the equipment left on the Moon is probably familiar to most people: crash sites from all the Ranger spacecraft, Surveyors 1-7, all the Apollo mission descent and ascent stages, two lunar excursion vehicles, etc.

“When you include the stuff put on the Moon by the Japanese, Russians, Indians and Chinese it’s pretty staggering,” Limpio said “We’re talking about hundreds or even thousands of pieces, some of which contain highly toxic compounds.”

The University’s research team is not concerned about satellites and other objects in Earth orbit, in orbits around other celestial bodies or outbound from the Solar System, since their funding is limited. A future, more comprehensive list of manmade waste will, hopefully, be undertaken after consideration by the Brazilian government. At this point, only what has actually landed or crashed will be studied.

Dechatarra’s report concludes: “There are three rovers on Mars that’ll be there until doomsday. Not to mention Pathfinder, Phoenix, two Viking landers and the probable crash site of the Mars Polar Express—I’m leaving many others off this list. Even the asteroid Eros will host the NEAR-Shoemaker satellite forever. Lastly, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko’s environment will be contaminated by the ill-conceived Philae lander until some way is found to retrieve it, along with all the rest.”

Space junk and trash in the Solar System can only get worse, the press release insists. Unless we all push for the establishment of green exploration, bigger and more dangerous objects will be sent to other worlds; there to remain indefinitely.

Stephen Smith

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