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Space is littered with millions of bits of orbiting garbage leftover from missions. The flying flotsam can delay launches and could potentially smash into spacecraft. Now some creative ideas are emerging for how to sweep up the junk. One idea even involves an oversized NERF ball.
All this is small stuff compared to something big coming in on its own -- like the Hubble Space Telescope. There's good reason why an eventual "controlled" reentry is being planned for that orbiting eye on the universe. Orbital debris analysts have figured out the risk to humans down below if Hubble should plow through the Earth's atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner.
At least two tons (2,055 kilograms) of the estimated 26,000 pounds (11,792 kilograms) of the observatory would survive the plummet from space. Such a fall would produce a debris track that stretches over 755 miles (1,220 kilometers) in length. The analysis suggests that the risk posed to the human population in the year 2020 is 1:250 -- a risk that exceeds NASA's own safety standard.