Space may need to be cleaned of junk

Associated Press / September 2, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Space junk has made such a mess of Earth’s orbit that specialists say we may need to finally think about cleaning it up.

That may mean vacuuming up debris with space technology - cosmic versions of nets, magnets, and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of a panel that issued a new report on the problem yesterday.

There are 22,000 objects in orbit that are big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.

“We’ve lost control of the environment,’’ said retired NASA senior scientist Donald Kessler, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Since the space age began, civilization has littered the area just above Earth’s atmosphere with leftover boosters and other parts that come off during launches, and with old satellites.

NASA officials said they are examining the study.