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Alfonso Cuarón's film "Gravity" brings up a very interesting question - what do we do with all the debris flying above the Earth? Space junk is a huge headache for scientists, engineers, and astronauts. It makes space exploration incredibly dangerous when the tiniest object traveling at incredible speeds can cause catastrophic damage. Jonathan explores some really cool proposals companies have come up with to clear out space junk, from tractor beams to grappling hooks!
How would YOU solve the space junk problem? Share your craziest and most creative ideas in the comments!
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How much harm could a paint chip do? Plenty if it's traveling at eight kilometers per second!
Welcome to Fw:Thinking everyone, I'm Jonathan Strickland and you are getting a behind the scenes look at my audio podcast studio. Lucky you!
Now I want to talk to you about the film "Gravity." I got to see it recently and it was amazing. It gave me a real sense of vulnerability and isolation as I watched this movie, and also a deeper appreciation for one of the biggest challenges facing space exploration today. I'm talking about space junk.
Now this is all the stuff that's flying around 2,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, traveling at incredible speeds, and it's a huge headache for scientists, for engineers, and for astronauts because it makes it very dangerous to go out into orbit. So how do we get around this space junk problem, where even the tiniest object could cause catastrophic damage?
NASA suggests as a first step we build better spacecraft, so that they have heavier shielding, and in case something does collide with the spacecraft, they don't create more space junk, making the problem even worse. I think that's a good idea, it's a great first start. But there's a team in Switzerland that's come up with a really cool idea. The CleanSpace One spacecraft. Now this is a little guy that can go into low-Earth orbit, chase down space junk, and capture it with a claw. Already makes for the coolest spacecraft in my book.
It then can redirect its path back toward Earth and burn up in the reentry. Another approach is the GLiDeR - the Geostationary Large Debris Reorbiter. The GLiDeR fires an electron beam at space junk, building up a negative electrostatic charge. Fly a positively charged probe near it, and those opposite charges attract, and then you can just tow that space junk away - maybe back to Earth, or out of orbit entirely.
Here's the cool thing guys. Human beings have this habit. We're told something's impossible, and then we make everyone redefine the word "impossible." I expect that's going to be the same with space junk, and I can't wait to see what the solution is.
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