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Space Ecology

2013 October 12
by Shared by Steve Rust

With director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity lighting up the box office these past couple of weekends I thought it would be useful to post a few helpful links for thinking through the state of space ecology.

As Lynda Williams describes in her article “Space Ecology”, science and industry currently operates under a big space theory, “namely that space is so big that the waste we create in it will cause no harm.” Yet as she and others have demonstrated, orbital debris often finds its way back to earth, or creates problems for the thousands of satellites orbiting the planet. Of course, the international space station has not been obliterated by such debris (as it is in Gravity) but the U.S. military has spent billions of dollars since the early 1960s monitoring such debris, albeit for logistical rather than ecological purposes.

In September, as reported by NPR, parts of the the 50-year-old “space fence” (formally known as the Air Force Space Surveillance System) were shut down by the military due to outdated technology.  At present, according to an article by Mike Gruss of, Gen. William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, explains that a series of stop-gap measures is allowing the US military to effectively track its “space assets”.

The video embedded below details the efforts of aerospace and weapons manufacturer Lockheed-Martin to develop a new system, due to come on-line in 2018.  As you get caught up in the human drama and astounding 3D imagery of Gravity, keep in mind that space ecology will continue to be an important issue involving funding, resource consumption, waste management, geopolitics, engineering, and human imagination.

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