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(CNN) -- When space shuttle Discovery blasted off, it joined thousands and thousands of manmade objects orbiting Earth.
But should one of those objects hit the craft as it orbits at 16,000 mph, it could cause severe damage and a scuttled mission.
The shuttle crew is too busy to watch out for objects in Discovery's orbit, and because no traffic cops patrol space, tracking is the responsibility of the 1st Space Control Squadron (SPCS) of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, which operates the Space Control Center (SCC) inside Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The squadron is charged with detecting, tracking, identifying and cataloging all manmade objects orbiting Earth larger than 10 centimeters (4 inches) long.
Some of it floats in space; much of it orbits Earth. You can find it on the surfaces of Venus and Mars and twenty tons of it is actually parked on the Moon! Some call it space trash, others refer to it as space junk or space debris. All three terms identify the same items -- man-made objects remaining in space though they no longer serve any useful purpose. Mankind¹s journey into space began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Since that time more than 4,000 satellites have been launched into orbit. With so much traffic travelling into space, is it any wonder that a little trash has been left behind?