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We have argued for decades that we are running out of space for our garbage in the thousands of landfills currently peppering the globe... Now we are faced with another problem with our junk and it's far from the surface of the Earth.
Forget alien invasions! The real problem facing the space program is space junk, which is getting out of hand. Over the past 50 years, the great powers have considered outer space to be the ultimate dumping ground. So far, over 20,000 pieces of space junk, from millimeters in size all the way up to the size of 9 ton booster rockets are currently being tracked by military computers. If one considers pieces of junk down to .5 inches, which are quite difficult to track, then one might estimate that there might be as many as half a million or more pieces of junk, ranging from paint flecks to metal shavings, stray gloves and even tools such as screw drivers and wrenches.
The dangers posed by debris caught in orbit around the Earth is not a new problem and NASA scientists have been talking about it for years. Several computer models of the debris field have been created with vast amounts of data with some estimates stating that the debris will remain until 2055, after which it will increase. One NASA scientist estimated that around 40% (as of 2006) are a direct result of breakups from both spacecraft and rocket bodies. The computer generated illustration below (provided by ESA via Space.com) depicts the density of space junk around Earth in low-Earth orbit.
Cultures of Escherichia coli grown in space reached a 25% higher average final cell population than those in comparably matched ground controls (p