Although it no longer makes headlines nor the six o’clock news, about twice a month somebody launches something into space.
NASA’s current agenda alone calls for domestic communications satellites, weather satellites, new military communications and surveillance satellites, a satellite to test the magnetosphere, one to study propulsion principles, experimental TV broadcast satellites, ocean surface monitoring satellites, one to measure the shape of the earth, some to study atmospheric radiation, and at least one satellite to study satellites. And this is only for the U.S.
So what’s the problem? The problem, very simply, is that, as Newton found, what goes up must come down. That issue has never been publicly raised until 1978 with the Skylab discussion.
The objects that we, and others, continue to shoot into space are slowly sinking to earth, as the NASA officials have known. The smaller ones do disintegrate as they fall through the earth’s atmosphere, but the larger ones do not:
As of 1978, there were over 4,600 objects up there.
There also is concern over the crowding of communications satellites in desirable orbits. Not only is there physical danger and optical obstructions as these pieces of junk get in each other’s way, but transmitters already are up there that jam the radio frequencies of other satellites.
The space pollution problem is further aggravated by U.S. and Soviet Union military aspirations. The first acknowledged rift came in 1976 when a Soviet fragmentation bomb rendered a U.S. satellite’s communications system inoperative. In 1977, the Soviets managed to make shards of four U.S. communications satellites.
America’s allegedly peaceful project, the Space Shuttle, is designed to play a key part in space militarization. It is scheduled to launch most of the Pentagon’s satellite systems in the decade following its 1980 development:
The failure of the mass media to inform the public of the dangers of space “fall-out” and the militarization of space qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1978. Chicken Little might have been right but the media aren’t telling us about it.
Co-Evolutionary Quarterly, Summer 1978, p. 35, “Astropollution,” by David Thompson.
Progressive, November 1978, p. 16, “The Junk in Outer Space,” by Michael Harris.