Rubbish, junk, and garbage are not words typically associated with space. Space is imagined as a vast, and impeccably clean sphere; but we are making a big mess of it, a mess that is becoming a threat. In orbit around Earth are 10 million unwanted pieces of rubbish, zooming around without a care in the Universe. We call this space junk.
32 nuclear reactors number among the varied space-junk. Among it lies Vanguard I, America’s second satellite and the oldest piece of space debris still in orbit, dating back to 1958. Not all space junk is space-worthy though, there is normal waste as well, in fact there are about 200 bags of it. Instead of carrying their refuse back down to earth with them, cosmonauts on the Russian Mir space station just threw the waste into space for its first ten years. They hoped the bags would fall to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, a rubbish idea; especially when one considers what space junk is capable of.
Space junk is more than mere clutter, it is extremely dangerous. Without any air the pieces are never slowed down by normal collisions. During the first American space walk in 1965, Astronaut Edward White managed to ‘misplace’ his glove in the vacuum of space. The glove reached 28,000 kilometres per hour, making it the most dangerous item of clothing in history. It burnt up in orbit a month later, trying to slap the Earth. Space debris of all kinds can far exceed those speeds, some containing enough devastating kinetic energy to pass straight through 50mm of steel. In other words, enough to damage any space-faring craft that dares leave Earth. In fact, this has already happened.