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Orbiting trash can be a peril.

While debate is fierce concerning Earth-bound ecological issues, there exists a far greater willingness among policymakers to deal with the growing problem of garbage in space. According to a survey by Silvana Camboni, an environmental sociologist at Ohio State University, many of the nation's chief executive officers would support a voluntary program aimed at reducing orbital debris.

She sent a questionnaire to 388 heads of organizations integrally linked to the U.S. space program, including Federal agencies; Congressional committees that dealt in some way with science and/or technology; private space-related corporations; insurance companies that underwrite space missions; and conservation and environmental groups. She found that people f eel somewhat threatened by orbiting debris in space. Most respondents were more concerned about the safety of astronauts than for the threat posed by debris falling out of orbit and striking Earth. They want increased dialogue between government and the private sector to determine specific policy proposals, but also seek international regulations to ensure that the U.S. isn't the only nation curtailing debris.

A paper released in 1990 by the Federal Off ice of Technology Assessment claimed there was as much as 900,000 pounds of known orbital debris. Most of that is made of material at least 1 0 centimeters (nearly four inches) across. In addition, there is considerably more debris smaller than 10 centimeters circling the globe and this material also is a safety threat. In 1983, a tiny chip of paint struck the space shuttle Challenger and heavily damaged a cockpit window.

Debris orbiting within 2,000 kilometers of the ground travels at about 22,000 miles per hour. If a particle only one centimeter across hit a spacecraft in that region at such a speed, it would have the energy of a 400-pound safe traveling at 60 miles per hour. That "would be devastating," Camboni warns. "We are sorely in need of international regulations" to solve the problem of orbital debris. "I think it would cost us less to prevent it now than it would to clean up after a problem later."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:345
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