It’s no bigger than a single grain of sand.
But it packs as much energy as a bowling ball traveling 60 miles per hour.
Floating around the earth is a vast cloud of garbage, including bits of metal and computer chips from hundreds of exploded rocket boosters and satellites. The Washington Post calls it “the potentially deadly detritus of man’s past forays into space,” and there has always been a chance that the space shuttle or its crew would be lost to a strike by orbital garbage.
In fact, early investigations of the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia focused on a piece of space junk, among other possibilities. Ever since space debris has accumulated, NASA has worried about it, and has included the danger in its calculations. In the case of Columbia, NASA’s Final Readiness Review declared there was 1 chance in 370 that either the crew or the orbiter would be lost because of an impact by space junk — a figure well within NASA’s standard safety limits.
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