June 30th, 2011
11:00 PM ET

Space is kinda trashy

AFP/Getty Images

Our office recently started recycling glass. Most of the collection centers I've found in Hong Kong do not take glass. And while my apartment building has signs warning residents not to throw trash out of their windows, there are none urging them to save the Earth and recycle. It's definitely different from the U.S., where some cities collect plastic, paper and glass curbside. And it's a far cry from Japan, where recycling is a law.

Countries vary in their approaches to waste management on Earth. But when it comes to trash in space, there is international consensus that it's an important problem. A near miss between the International Space Station and an unknown piece of debris has drawn renewed attention to the growing danger.

Usually ISS can dodge orbiting space junk, but this was spotted too late. Instead, the six-member ISS crew had to seek shelter in the Soyuz capsules docked to the station. NASA estimates the object passed about 335 meters from ISS. That's believed to be the closest encounter ever.

This is only the second time that a space station crew has taken shelter in the Soyuz. The first was in March 2009, when a bit of satellite rocket motor flew close by.

That incident happened one month after a defunct Russian satellite accidentally collided with a U.S. satellite. NASA says that created more than 2,000 trackable bits of debris.

So just how much trash is up there? Take a look.


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Filed under: General • Science • Space