Babies and Bathwater. Which to Throw Out?

Space junk postpones a repair to the ISS, but is there a bigger problem?

The ‘babies’ are of course two astronauts, Tom Marshburn (61) and Kayla Barron (34), who had to delay a spacewalk to replace a damaged antenna on the International Space Station. They were originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 30th but had to wait until Thursday, December 2nd. The delay was the first of its kind, but not one that humanity should be very proud of. Dangerous space junk, which could puncture the astronaut’s suits, menaced the mission forcing a halt. Dirty bathwater indeed.

Mission Control learned of the orbiting debris that chanced to come dangerously close, but did not have enough time to assess the situation so the mission had to be delayed. This may have been the first time for a spacewalk, but it isn’t the first time space junk has threatened the fragile floating lab. Two weeks prior the orbit of the ISS had to be altered to move out of the way of more space debris created by a Russian anti-satellite test. Astronauts onboard had to scramble into their spacecraft for safety.

It wasn’t the first time for an orbital maneuver either. Junk left in orbit from a 1994 rocket launch had to be dodged just two days later on Saturday, December 4th as well. According to NASA, there are approximately 20,000 pieces of space junk orbiting the globe, among them old satellites that have broken up. More get added as humanity continues to push the envelope of exploration. A question to be considered is why? Why is there so much junk/debris?

We give it a name like junk or debris, but really it is like a form of pollution. We have plastic nurdles floating around in great garbage patches in the world’s oceans causing unknown threats to the oceanic ecosystems. While the only thing that lives in low earth orbit are migrant humans, they are in danger from their own failures as custodians of their environment.

I love science, and I love the advancement of knowledge. However, I think it is purely immoral to have no exit plan when studying something. I’m reminded of the principles of ‘Leave No Trace’, which we could maybe rephrase for space:

  • Keep your hardware secure.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Take your stuff home with you.
  • Be considerate of other explorers.

Leave No Trace was developed for the preservation of Earth’s most beautiful places. While they are often disregarded by National Park ner-do-wells, most of these get broken or completely ignored when it comes to space by highly trained professionals. In the name of science and under the guise of current limitations no return plans are even devised for their exploration tools. Not from the first rocket until today. Rovers and modules are still sitting around on the moon or lying dormant on mars, not to mention all the various landing apparatus used to get them to the surface to begin with.

It’s as if polluting the earth isn’t enough, now humans have decided to pollute the moon and even the next planet, which I’m sorry to say is 100% lifeless. I can’t imagine what the forethought for others was when a missile was fired deliberately to destroy an old satellite creating 1,700 pieces big enough to track from the earth and thousands more too small to track, but big enough to threaten the life of an astronaut with a suit puncture. Thanks again Russia.

Even the antenna which was replaced stands as a testament to the dangers that exist now in orbit. Astronaut Barron reported at least 11 small debris strikes to the failed antenna that was removed during the spacewalk, with some of the holes looking old. The antenna had been in service for 20 years before finally malfunctioning in September. This is clearly not a new problem. If the bathwater gets thrown out, the babies need to go with it. They made it dirty in the first place.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Author: Phillip

Phillip is a dad of three boys and married to a beautiful dedicated woman. An aspiring artist and science fiction author. He has been an IT professional for the past 15+ years. He is currently working on a full-length sci-fi novel, but he also makes small drawings/watercolors for his school-age son's lunchbox and occasionally pretends to be a comedian. He also still struggles with putting two spaces at the end of sentences.

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