NASA Scientist Unretires to Handle Space Junk Orbiting Earth Because It's Reached 'Critical Density'

There's about half a million pieces of man-made space junk orbiting the Earth.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

NASA hopes to send a human to Mars within the next two decades but there’s one major problem (okay, many) standing in the way—space junk. More than half a million pieces of man-made trash currently orbit the Earth and now a NASA scientist is on a mission to get rid of it.

Business Insider reports that Donald Kessler recently came out of retirement to find a solution for the growing clutter wrapped around the planet, which has reached a point of potential danger. "We're at what we call a 'critical density' — where there are enough large objects in space that they will collide with one another and create small debris faster than it can be removed," he told Marketplace.

The scientist spent nearly 20 years as the head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office, which tracks the space clutter in low-orbit around the Earth. He predicts that if the problem isn’t handled soon enough, big ventures like sending satellites to Pluto or manned-missions to Mars won’t be possible because the vehicles will be unable to leave the planet.

Don’t feel too guilty, litterers of the world. The trash is made up of old satellites that crash into other objects like meteors, creating even more pieces. And it’s those objects that Kessler says we need to focus on. In 2013, he told Huffington Post, "The only way to [solve this problem] is to bring back the larger objects. If you want to stop this collision cascading process, you have to bring back satellites, and we don't know how to do that."


Latest in Pop Culture