Communion Of Dreams

Tossing out the junk.
July 23, 2007, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Astronomy, General Musings, NASA, Space

I remember, when I was a kid back in the 60s, that it was still fairly common for people to routinely and without much thought to just toss junk out of their cars onto the side of the road. I’m not talking about the occasional idiot with no care for the environment – I’m talking about your typical American. The roadsides, as a result, were awful. This was also still the era of private and informal ‘dumps’ all through the countryside where people would just literally fill up a small creek valley with their trash and unwanted junk. It wasn’t really until the nascent environmental movement got going that people started to think of the world a bit differently, and within a decade or so it was no longer culturally acceptable to just toss junk out of your car or dump your trash.

So, when I see this kind of news item, I am taken back to those days:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A spacewalking astronaut tossed two large chunks of junk off the international space station Monday, hurling the old equipment into orbit.

Clayton Anderson, a sportsman who enjoys officiating basketball games back on Earth, heaved a 1,400-pound, refrigerator-size ammonia tank away from the station. His first toss was a 200-pound camera mounting.

Mission Control declared the tank throw great and “right down the middle.”

Um, guys, is this really the image we want to send? I know that the two items are expected to ‘de-orbit’ and burn up on re-entry within a year, but still . . . There are over 100,000 bits and piece of space junk in orbit already, complicating launches, threatening satellites and space-based telescopes, and even risking astronaut survival in orbit. The US Space Surveillance Network tracks like 10,000 of these items. Adding to this mess isn’t smart, and treating the disposal of junk as though it were some kind of game seems to me to be a very bad idea. It’s like we’ve stepped back 50 years, to a time when it was OK to just treat the Earth as our garbage dump. Have we learned nothing?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.

2 Comments so far
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I spent a few weeks as ‘cargo’ aboard an LST in 1992. A modern LST is a pretty big chunk of ship, with maybe 450 sailors and embarked Marines.

We generated a lot of trash. For two weeks the ship was at Roosevelt Roads and operating around Puerto Rico. Regulations and/or the law forbade us from dumping garbage overboard close to shore and she was never in port long enough to organize a garbage ex and get rid of the stuff the way you’d expect – in a landfill.

Then we left for home and as soon as we were fifty miles from land .. off the fantail it went.

Mixed emotions. Dumping the stuff, bad. On the other hand after two weeks of tropical July sun it was starting to smell really bad.

I’m told that modern Navy ships are better at recycling and don’t dump nearly as much crap overboard.

What you’d think they would do is find some way to ex it into the atmosphere now, and not let atmospheric drag at 220 miles take it down a year later.

Or keep it around for an X prize. The first private company to come up and salvage X tons from the ISS junkyard gets a 10 million dollar prize …

Comment by Brian

Hey Brian,

Yeah, I understand that cruise ships also dump a lot of stuff overboard. And no doubt the commercial ships do the same. It still seems fairly dumb to me.

But even worse is to do this in space, where that little crap traveling at 17,500 miles an hour can take out a billion dollar satellite, ruin a shuttle, or even kill astronauts. And then to put out a press release about how cool it is…sheesh.

I do like your idea for an X Prize. And there’s a pretty good SF short story waiting to be written with that theme in mind. (If it hasn’t already been done.)

Jim Downey

Comment by Communion of Dreams

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