A few weeks ago, I was simply browsing through my daily science briefing, my news feed and multiple messengers instantly started buzzing with news articles regarding a new world record. India had launched a total of 104 satellites onboard a single rocket into space, breaking the previous record of Russia of launching 37 satellites in 2014. I took a deep, long breath and inadvertently uttered ‘No! not again!’ Don’t get me wrong, I am a great space enthusiast and every single space discovery leaves me with awe and elation, however launching satellites into earth’s orbit carries a whole different emotional value for me – and for planet earth’s future for that matter.

Listening to the countdown and then seeing a rocket spewing out those thick milky clouds of rocket fuel, burning and pushing this marvel of human engineering and ingenuity up, cutting through the clouds and our atmosphere, straight into space; has been mesmerising generations since the Russian launch of Sputnik. However, somewhere between hundreds of rocket launches and ever evolving technological advancement – courtesy of the satellites that we so proudly shoot out into space – we have stopped looking into the inevitable consequence of ‘Space Junk’.

Our planet has now turned into a ‘beehive’ of countless satellites, some performing service (or surveillance depending on your preference) to humanity, while others obscured and abandoned, orbiting around the Earth and have now become a real cause of concern for space engineers and even astronauts. The problem has become such a colossal issue that NASA has a dedicated page where you can actually witness for yourself, the extent of the space litter engulfing earth; which is truly shocking, to say the least.

According to NASA, the space around the earth is littered with all kinds of space debris ranging from ‘flecks of paints’ to full-size satellites that are no longer functional and are abandoned by the host country. Most of the space junk is orbiting around the earth at a staggering speed of almost seven times the speed of a bullet. These rogue objects reach the speed of approximately 18,000 miles per hour, posing an ever-present threat to astronauts and vital space equipment onboard the International Space Station.To have an idea of the extent of damage that a half an inch piece of debris could cause moving at six miles per second, imagine getting smashed in the head by a bowling ball moving at 300 miles per hour; which is 100 miles more than the average speed of a Boeing 737 taking off.

To have an idea of the extent of damage that a half an inch piece of debris could cause moving at six miles per second, imagine getting smashed in the head by a bowling ball moving at 300 miles per hour; which is 100 miles more than the average speed of a Boeing 737 taking off.

Map of trackable space objects. Credit: ESA

According to the renowned American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the future of space travel is in great jeopardy due to the space debris. Tyson propounded in an interview that it will become increasingly challenging for launching successful space probes and other missions if we keep on littering our space with satellites and other junk. While speaking to comedian Joe Rogen in his podcast Joe Rogen Experience, Tyson carefully criticised humanity’s ambition to colonise other planets citing that our behaviour about our earth is enough to predict what we are capable of in terms of destroying our planet and its immediate vicinity.