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Welcome to stuff you should know a production of I Heart Radio. Hey, and welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Astro Clarke, and there's Charles Afterburn, Bryant Park and Jerry Gousse rolling this out there. Where do you call me Afterburn?
Because I'm gassy yet, although we've been we've been shooting for a year straight, no one, even no one cares except us.
Have you ever set one of your ducks on fire? Have I ever let a fart? I was hoping to not use that word, but yes, yeah, I used to. There was a period in my youth where I thought that was just about the funniest thing ever. And I still think it's pretty hysterical. I just don't do it.
I never thought it was funny. I've always just been more wowed by it.
You know, it's I mean, the notion of it now as I've gotten older is more funny than the act itself. The notion that we can expel flammable gas from our bus. Exactly. It's pretty great. And then do you remember that cautionary tale that that if you let it, it could travel up into your recto cook inside some sort of a reverse thing?
There must have been like some, I don't know, some department somewhere, some obscure federal agency that was tasked with coming up with fake cautionary tales to scare kids out of doing things that where they weren't behaving, you know?
Yeah, I think what my most cherished memories were the times where people swore that it wasn't possible, that, oh, that you couldn't light it.
They wouldn't work. Yeah. Yeah. So proving proving that was always sort of the most fun because it was just like hilarity ensued.
And also you just got to be like in your face, like literally come down here. I'm going to light this in your face if you're just so sure it's not going to catch fire. And I always had a theory that it would get rid of the smell kind of instantaneously. I think just burn it. I think it did.
So it's really an efficient way of clearing the air. What are we doing?
Well, we're talking about space junk. And actually, that's the band, the whole thing.
What immediately had to look it up because I was going to say great band name, but there's a band out of Buffalo named Space Junk.
Oh, yeah. Out of Buffalo.
I guess that I guess that that Ford's being mentioned. Sure, sure. OK, so space junk, not the band, the actual stuff, stuff floating around in space. Yes. Turns out there's a lot of it. And I actually have a little bit of an intro here. I'm going to do a little. A little.
Wasn't the lighting. No, that was a pre show tangent. OK, I think. Is that classification. No. Back in the 70s there is a guy who worked for NASA called Donald Kessler, and he was an interesting cat in of himself.
But one of the claims to fame that he has is that his name became synonymous with a a an unstoppable chain reaction of collisions of space junk called the Kessler Syndrome.
And the Kessler syndrome that Kessler came up with is based on this idea that if you get enough stuff floating around in orbit around Earth, eventually this stuff is going to smash into other stuff up there because these things are traveling at very high speeds. And when they smash into another, they're going to potentially break into more and more pieces. And then those pieces are going to go on and they're going to smash into other things. And so this chain reaction will begin to where there's just pieces constantly smashing into one another and all of a sudden we're trapped on Earth because we can't make it through the debris field we accidentally created.
Hence the cause the Kessler Syndrome has struck again, like a like a fart being in your face, but in the face of humanity as a whole. Yeah.
And I think some some scientists these days say that parts of our orbit are already like that, right? Yeah.
So Kessler was basically saying he made these predictions in the 70s and he said based at the rate that we're going, it'll probably will reach a critical mass in about 30 to 40 years. And a lot of people said, well, we've reached that point. And I think Kessler is actually right.
The thing is, we can't really see everything that's up there. So we have to make guesses and assumptions. We actually track a very respectable amount of space junk, considering that we're just down here on earth, that we actually can track things going really fast that are really small, traveling really far above the earth. But there's a lot of it that's just too small for our current technology to track. So we have to make guesses about what all is up there.
And it looks like there is a lot of stuff up there and it's possible we have reached critical mass and this this cascading collision. The chain reaction just hasn't started yet.
Yeah, I mean, I was just about to correct myself when I said some people say it's already there, that I didn't mean. It's all just so people understand. It's already like we can't travel through these places. But that process has started such that it can't be reversed. Like even if we stop launching anything there, like it's too late. Yeah.
Once that chain reaction starts, I mean, there's nothing we can do about it. I mean, we can't even get a lot of the space junk that's up there out now. I can't imagine when they've started on a chain reaction that's got to make catching it even even more difficult. So a lot of people say, well, let's do everything we can to avoid that cascading collision, that Kessler syndrome from ever starting in, a lot of people sitting out there.
Chuck, I'm guessing, are like, what are you guys talking about with space junk? What is the space junk? Yes, I'm well versed with the band from Buffalo. I have all of their CDs. I got them all for free just walking past this one street corner many times over multiple years.
But I don't know about the actual space junk. And it never occurred to me that the band space junk is based on a real thing.
Right. So space junk, I kind of always assume people knew what this was. But we've made that assumption before about things like, I don't know, trees. And people said, why don't you describe what a tree is? It's so.
Oh, by the way, thanks for all the great pictures from all over the world. Yeah, we've been it's been delightful. Yeah, but space junk is you know, it can be a lot of things. NASA actually has sort of a list that describes it better than we could. A lot of it is abandoned spacecraft or spacecraft that doesn't work anymore. So we abandon it. This can be big full spaceships or it can be parts of spaceships, because as we'll learn and as you know, if you follow, you know, if you're a rocket enthusiast, like, those things break apart and we'll get to that.
But there are many pieces that are quite large that are just sort of left up there until they come back down or they hit something else. Yeah, some of this stuff is, like I said, parts of rockets that have broken apart, usually upper stage, because that lower stage stuff breaks off early enough to where it generally, you know, after a few years may tumble back toward earth, burn up hopefully so where nothing actually hits Earth. But that upper stage stuff is kind of stuck up there.
Yeah, yeah. That's that's one thing that you'll you'll find out about things that we place into orbit the further away from Earth that this thing is circling the Earth, the the longer it's going to take to come back down to earth.
So it makes it. Yeah, because it's the force of gravity that pulls these things in orbit back down to Earth eventually.
Right. Yeah. What else, what else do we have. Motor influence. Yeah. So a lot of unspent fuel, a lot of rocket fuel, a solid fuel. And then I was looking it up. That includes ammonium nitrate appropriately enough, but it also. Yeah. And enemy but it also includes gunpowder, black gunpowder. That's what they use as solid rocket fuel sometimes, which is like we've come really far, but also not far away, you know.
So there's canisters of of gunpowder floating around up in space which are particularly problematic because not only can they break things apart, they can really break things apart because they may explode when they impact things going as fast as they travel.
And then the last thing and we'll get to all the detail about all this stuff and why it's dangerous, but little bitty little tiny things, little tiny flecks of paint, even millions of them can cause a lot of damage.
I think there is, you know, reports from astronauts that say, you know, that work on the Hubble that are like this thing looks like a car that's been through a hailstorm, you know. Yeah. It's just like getting constantly pelted. And you think a speck of paint, who cares? But when these things are going 20 something miles an hour, it can cause some damage.
Yeah, I think his famous quote back to ground control was this thing looks like a 72 nova.
Yeah, no kidding. The Hubble. Yeah. So when we when we the the thing about space junk is that you have to remember is every single bit of it used to be here on Earth and every single bit of it was launched by humans. That's just space junk. There's plenty of other stuff out in space like asteroids and comets and pieces of rocks flying around. That's not space. It's yeah, it's flying around. That's not space junk. Space junk is specifically things that humans have launched into Earth.
So there's this whole kind of air of, oh, I don't know the actual word for it, but that we've done this to ourselves, like we've created our own problem. And now, yeah, we've made this bed that we have to lie in or figure out how to get out of. I think it's so human.
Yeah. Isn't it that like, let's destroy the earth, let's start destroying space because we may want to live up there, so we might as well pre destroy it before we get up there to really destroy it. Right.
And it makes sense, though, early on in the space programs, you know, starting in the in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, that's when the whole thing started. But, you know, it makes sense that we have the technology to get things up there, but not to get them back down. And we knew that eventually there their orbit was going to decay. They would be pulled down into the atmosphere where it would probably burn up. So that made sense at the beginning of the space race, but as we got better and better at technology, the idea that we could just Laeter space became less and less acceptable.
The problem is it didn't really go away. Like there's still basically stuff that's being launched up there today that has no way of being brought back down. It's just like we'll just leave it up there until it runs out of its useful life and then hope for the best. That's kind of how a lot of stuff is being launched into space right now. And it's particularly galling because we have the technology to bring it back down. It just makes the whole thing more expensive.
And I think that that's why a lot of companies and countries don't include that.
Yeah, there's a saying among contractors, a joke, if you will, among contractors who built houses and fix up houses. If there's something wrong and they're working on and there's the homeowner isn't around, they just say, can't see it from my house. I know that's kind of what's been going on here for years with I mean, not only space agencies, but private companies. As we'll see, Amazon and Tesla and all kinds of companies have plans to put a lot of lot more things into space.
And it made me wonder, like who's regulating the stuff? We'll get to all that. But it's kind of cool is since 1957, when Sputnik was launched into space, Narad started cataloguing this stuff and numbering them and naming them. And Sputnik is object number one. And, you know, they they did they do a really good job of keeping track of a lot of this stuff. Like you said, considering we're down here and it's up there, it's not too bad.
Things started breaking apart, though, and getting smaller and colliding with one another, creating hundreds and thousands of more smaller bits. But we kind of, you know, our technology progress where we could go smaller and our tracking abilities. And so now the US Department of Defense started cataloging anything basically larger than, I think, a softball.
I've seen grapefruit, too. So, yeah, basically that size, if you're not familiar with softball's. But you're crazy for citrus. It's grapefruit size, too. If you don't know either one of those. I'm sorry. That's the best way. Yeah.
Maybe two of your fists balled up like a good and I don't know how big your fists are.
A good size snowball. OK, if you're somebody like Rob from the tropics, I don't know any of this stuff, I'm from Buffalo. I know about snowballs in space just right in that catalog.
Chuck, by the way, is pretty awesome. It contains not just Sputnik and all every satellite ever created in every grapefruit size piece of debris, but there's some other really interesting stuff in there, too. The cremated remains of the canister containing the cremated remains of Gene Roddenberry is one of them, the creator of Star Trek. The Tesla Roadster that SpaceX launched is up. I was mad about that one. Yeah, especially when you start learning about space junk, you're like, this is not a good idea.
Yeah. What we don't need to do is just do like a PR stunt stuff in this space.
And then, you know, like like astronauts have lost entire boxes of tools on spacewalks before and they're just out there floating around wrenches and stuff like that. They're all in the catalog. That they kept that stuff tethered, he got a tether. Yes, sometimes that gets loose or they forget other astronauts, they have hard days, too.
That's right. There be game on some days. But, yeah, anything as small as a softball. There are about twenty thousand pieces orbiting the earth right now. And then there are about half a million pieces the size of a marble or larger that NASA is tracking. And then the paint flecks. Just good luck with that. There's millions of that. No one, no one keeps track of it.
Yeah. Paint flakes as well. Just because we can't. We definitely would if we could. But we just don't have the technology right now because there's so so there's three orbits. I don't want to do an episode on satellites one day, but just briefly. But there's three orbits, low earth orbit, middle earth orbit, not to be confused with the shire and geosynchronous orbit, which is way up there.
And that's where your communication satellites are geostationary. They basically, if you stand in a spot and could look up, if there was a satellite ahead of you or above you, it'd be there 24 hours a day every day of the year. It's it's it's moving in line with one spot around the earth and trying to do that. You have to be really far out. The stuff that's further closer to the earth travels the fastest. And it seems that lower earth orbit is the most crowded, too.
So the things that are in lower earth orbit are traveling the fastest and there's the most of them because it's the easiest to get to. Right. I feel like that's a pretty good setup if you include our two leading stories. Sure. So maybe we should take a break and talk a little bit about some of the things they're doing to mitigate this right after this.
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All right, so there's a lot of space junk out there, a lot of collisions happening when satellites collide, like I said, they can create just a very much bigger problem by creating lots more smaller pieces. And there are a few countries, the USA is one of them, China's one, Indias one that we have used missiles before. They're called antisatellite weapons assets to physically damage a satellite. And basically what they do, it's very you know, we all kind of laughed when Armageddon came out about sending people up there to drill holes and then drop bombs in it.
But when you look at some of these things that we've thought to do, they're all kind of rudimentary like that, like, let's just send something in there and ram it into a satellite. Yeah.
Shoot a missile at that thing the old fashioned way. Yeah. That's called a kinetic kill model, which is it's exactly that you shoot a missile at a satellite or something up in space and you blow it into smithereens is Yosemite Sam would say, right.
So you don't want to do this. But a lot of countries do like you listed. They have not only just the technology but have actually done this, have run these tests. And I think it's kind of a to show two twofold show of force where you're showing that, like, I can launch really technically sophisticated stuff up there that I don't want anyone else to know about and then I can destroy it before you could ever possibly find out about it.
Yeah. Or I don't like your satellite and what it's doing. I'm going to shoot that thing out of the sky. I just showed all of you that I'm capable of doing it, so. Yeah. So it makes sense, I guess, in a geopolitical way. But up in space it makes zero sense because when you blow up a satellite or something, you blow it up into thousands of pieces of that grapefruit, softball, snowball size debris and then millions of smaller pieces.
And all of a sudden the population, that catalog of space junk just increased by 10 or 15 or 20 percent, depending on how big the explosion was and how much debris it created.
Yeah, and you might think because there have been satellites launched basically continuously for, you know, many, many decades now that they're banging into each other at a decent rate. But that's actually not the case yet. As far as actual satellite collisions in February 2009, the very first one happened, the cosmos with a K. So you know where that one from the twenty cosmos, twenty to fifty one out of Russia collide. And it was defunct, collided with, I think of a private one from a US company called Iridium, which sounds like a total sci fi movie bad guy company.
I know you think I don't actually know.
It doesn't strike me like that. I get what you're saying, but I think it's a very pleasant word.
OK, it makes me think of the the Rainbow Centrum vitamin logo kind of. Oh, yeah, really.
And I find it very surprising. Yeah.
Well, one guy's evil corporation is another guy's rainbow fighter. That's right. They were traveling at a speed relative to each other about twenty two thousand miles an hour and blew them up into, you know, two thousand pieces, at least four inches in diameter. And then, like you said, thousands and thousands and millions of tinier and tinier pieces. Right.
So this is the first time those two thousand nine were two satellites rammed into each other, as far as we know. And I think that hasn't happened again yet right now. But the thing is, is because there's so many satellites up there and we're launching so many more, that that that it's going to happen again.
It's just inevitable that it's going to happen again, because you'll notice, you know, while the Iridium satellite was operational, that Cosmos one was in operational, meaning there's no way to control it or move it. So the only way to avoid this collision is for the Iridium controllers to move theirs. And I guess they didn't have the warning or what why they didn't move it? Because there's as we'll see, there's a there's collision maneuvers where you just basically move your satellite out of the way if you think it's going to going to hit something that didn't happen with this one.
And so because there's so many satellites that are defunct out there that are traveling in opposite directions at really high speeds, of course, this is going to happen again. And the Union of Concerned Scientists says that there's something like thirty three hundred. I know they're great. 1372 active satellites in orbit in at least three thousand more inactive satellites in orbit right now. So it's definitely going to happen again.
Yeah, I think the Union of Concerned Scientists logo is I looked it up. It's just a silhouette of two folded arms with lab coats, sleeves, scowling, scowling arms. So, yeah, it's going to happen again. I think there was one NSA official, the European Space Agency, and this is paraphrasing, but said it's basically what we're doing is like every time a ship goes out to sea, just leaving it out there, like eventually this is going to be a real problem.
And I know that it's hard to imagine because it's in space. But let me liken it to the ocean and boats and it might get through your thick skulls, right?
Yeah. So, yeah, it's basically a tragedy of the commons that we're seeing right now. But the Commons are becoming more and more crowded as the days go by that thirty three hundred and seventy two active satellites in orbit think that was as of the beginning of twenty twenty one. The end of twenty twenty. That was a thousand more active satellites than there were in two thousand nineteen.
Yeah, the rate is picking up like exponentially and one of the reasons why it's picking up exponentially is that a lot of companies I think there's at least eight companies right now, they have proposals to release what are called mega constellations or swarms of satellites. And you would you would need a swarm of satellites because these things in lower earth orbit travel so fast that if they like, you're connected to one for your cell phone, it's suddenly gone. So they hand it off to the satellite behind them and behind them and behind them so that you could continue service.
So the more swarm of satellites you have, the more connected you could be. And so some of these proposals, like SpaceX, is Starlink swarm.
It aims to to create like global coverage of satellite Internet service. So everyone, everywhere in the world will be able to connect to really high speed Wi-Fi because of this swarm. So there's a benefit to it. But at the same time, the SpaceX constellation requires 12000 satellites. There's only called a swarm. There's only 3300 up there right now. And Elon Musk is saying that he's going to add another 12000 just with his swarm. So all of these satellites that are going up in are in the process of going up are about to make the whole thing a lot more crowded.
So, yes, the likelihood of a collision just is increasing by by orders of magnitude every year, from what I can tell.
Yeah. And, you know, obviously, one of the big risks here and we'll talk about all of them is something falling on onto Earth and hurting people is one of the smaller risks, even though that has happened when Skylab very famously fell out in the Western Australian outback. But we'll get to that. But that's not the biggest risk. The biggest risk is for for damage and collisions up there. And we've got a lot of astronauts up there. We have people living on space stations.
We have people working on that Hubble telescope. And I mean, that was the movie Gravity, right? That was space junk that caused their whole thing, right? Yeah.
They basically depicted Kessler syndrome chain reaction, I guess a localised one in that movie from from I'd totally forgotten about it, but I kept seeing references to it. So, yeah, I kind of remember it now. Like, isn't that why she had to take shelter somewhere with the ghost of George Clooney?
Who wouldn't, though, you know, did he even exist in that movie?
I don't remember. Yeah, OK. Is there a theory that he was not real?
No, I just didn't remember if, like, he if, like, at the end, they were like and he never really existed. So he was there. She was just remembering him later or imagining him there later on, right?
I think so. I mean, I only saw that once. Same here. Yeah.
But even stuff like we said, small as a paintwork, if it's going twenty two thousand miles an hour of one centimeter paint, Fleck can inflict enough damage as a or the same amount as a five hundred and fifty pound object going about 60 miles an hour here on Earth. And if that goes up to 10 centimeters, it'd be comparable to a seven kilogram TNT blast. Paint flakes, pink fleck marbles. Yeah, pretty amazing stuff if you think about it.
And actually, they've had to replace windows on the space shuttle back when the space shuttle was in operation in the US. And they there'd be like deep gouges and streaks taken out of the the windows. And when they would analyze and they'd be like, that's like did that. Yeah.
And, you know, the SS and a lot of our work happens below where most of this stuff is. But it's still a danger. It is a danger.
So one of the reasons why it's a danger is because, again, the the SS is it's 250 miles above Earth. Four hundred and three kilometres above the surface. It's in low earth orbit. But it is one of the most vital pieces of space technology that's up there right now. So we want to protect it. We want to keep the ISIS safe. The problem is, is that there's a lot of stuff A. All of it, and when that stuff eventually comes back down to earth, it might pass by the Israelis coming down and then the stuff that's also in lower earth orbit around the SS could run into it from the side or from the opposite direction or like at a 90 degree plane.
So the SS is constantly under threat. And NASA's and I think that it's a bunch of different agencies that use the SS have come up with procedures for basically moving it if if there's a high enough chance that that a collision will occur. And when we talk about high enough chance, we're seeing like a one in 100000 chance is enough reason to move the SS out of the way.
Yeah, and they came up with a pretty I mean, it seems pretty obvious, but it's a pretty smart way to determine if it's dangerous or not. They said we need to get an area around these things where we can determine if it's, you know, basically a close call or not. And we're going to call it the pizza box, because that's what it looks like. And everybody loves pizza. Everyone knows what pizza is. Do we have to describe that?
Please know we have an episode on pizza, so go listen to that.
There's some guy eating a grapefruit who's like, never heard of pizza, but it's shaped like a pizza box is flat and rectangular. It's about thirty miles across a mile deep, thirty miles long. And the idea is that, you know, imagine the excess or whatever important satellite in the middle of this pizza box in space. And they say, if anything, if we predict anything will come within the bounds of that pizza box, then that means that we have to get together and and decide what to do, at least not necessarily take the action, because then you've got to determine the probability of collision.
But that's when it gets their attention, I think.
So if they figure out that there's a one in 100000 chance of of collision and moving, the ISIS isn't going to just be like, well, the mission scrapped now because we needed the ISIS three feet to the left and now we can't do anything. So just forget it. Just forget the whole thing. They will move the ISIS. If there's a one in 10000 chance of collision and it won't jeopardize the lives of the crew, then they'll move the ISIS mission, be damned if they don't take that lightly.
And then one other thing they might do, if they don't have time to move the ISIS, they'll put the crew into whatever capsule brought them there. If the Soyuz rocket that that brought them there is docked or if one is SpaceX is Dragon capsule is docked, they'll still say go in there and hang out until this this predicted collision passes. But hang out there like it's like a lifeboat basically for him.
Yeah, that's the one the only one that confused me a little bit. I mean, I get the idea that that's a good idea to be sort of in the escape pod. But that escape pod can also be crashed as well.
Yes, I would think you would make a very fine NASA flight engineer because I was reading an account of Scott Kelly, one of the Kelly twins, the astronauts who are just so great.
Scott Kelly was up on the ISS once as a commander, I think, when he was spending that year in space and there was a predicted collision that was enough to tell them to go sit in the Soyuz rocket. And they said, but don't close the hatch because it's possible that the the capsule could get hit and you might need to get out of the capsule really quick, too. But then, you know, if the ISIS is hit, you can close the hatch very quickly and disembark.
I guess so. Yes. I wonder if they did that for the very first time. They said, just go get in the escape pod. I'm simplifying things, of course, for Star Wars fans. And they go get in the space pod and close the door in there. Go they go. All right. We're all good now, right. And then they look at each other and they're like, not really.
Yeah, it was we're just in another thing. It was an interesting account. They were they were just kind of he said it was a little tense, but then the time, the predicted time of collision came and went. And, you know, they were finally like, OK, can we can we get out now? But he said it was a little like it was very quiet and they could just hear themselves and one another breathing. And that was about it.
But I mean, it's dangerous work and they understand this.
But the goal is to bring them all back always. But, you know, when you go and, you know, it's like being a firefighter or something, you know, that there's a risk that you might not come back. There's got to be. Oh, yeah, for sure. I just want that to be as minimal as possible. Yes.
And they take extraordinary measures to make sure that that it's as minimized as possible for sure.
So we take another break. I think so, man, and we're going to come back and talk about what to do about this space junk problem.
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OK, so we, I think, have established that space junk is kind of a problem and not just for the ISPs, not just for satellites, I think one thing we kind of left out is if these satellites, you know, crash into each other, there's somebodies dish TV gone.
Yeah. How are you going to watch? How are you going to watch the big game then? You're not. Yeah. So space junk affects us one and all. And there's all sorts of other things that could happen if our satellites start going out. It's not something we want. We also don't want the crew of the SS to get hurt, but also eventually in the future when we go back to the moon and then when we travel beyond the moon, we're going to be needing to go in and out of Earth's orbit.
And we don't want there to be some crazy debris field that we have to navigate around or wait to pass or whatever. So this is something we need to to mitigate right now. And it is just beginning to be something that some of the space agencies, not all, unfortunately, in some countries and some companies are starting to take seriously and figure out how to mitigate.
Yeah, I mean, think about space tourism and all these companies. They're like, hey, how'd you like to fly up there for one hundred thousand dollars? Exactly. And risk being plowed into by paint.
Fleck's write a paint like being taken out by a paint flake is just the undignified.
So the UN gets involved a little bit and they say, hey, how about everyone, all you companies sending satellites up there? Why don't you promise to remove these things? Twenty five at least twenty five years after the end of their mission and everyone said, sure, we'll do that. UN how are you going to enforce that? And the UN says, oh, no. Yeah, we're asking nicely though.
All the space agencies kind of slowly encircled the UN and they grabbed it and gave it a wedgie.
But people I'm kind of joking, but people in these agencies, they do know it's a problem and they are coming up with things kind of Armageddon style. I mean, literally space.
Now, is it with you in that movie? I just always thought it was the dumbest thing. Like, how am I supposed to believe this, that this is how they're going to solve this problem by just blowing this thing up, by drilling holes in it and putting bombs in it? Yeah. And then the more I read about stuff like this, the more I think that's an actual idea that they could do. Yeah, yeah.
I mean, we're like maybe a decade off from space mining, I would guess, like mining asteroids.
I just feel like I don't want to give Michael Bay credit, OK? For coming up with a plausible thing, because I just still want to say he's ridiculous. OK. But it's not because they have space nets and they have space harpoons and space magnets, and these are some of the things that they actually use to drag these things close enough to where it falls out of orbit and then ideally burns up.
Yeah, like remove debris, right? Yeah, remove debris was it was kind of cool. The European Space Agency said, you know what, we have this defunct satellite up there called the Inmarsat. And why don't we just put a bounty on this thing to see what people can come up with and just say, you know, go hog wild and see what you can see what you can do. Bruce Willis.
Yeah, you got to tell him about Envisat and what it is and what it's doing right now through space.
Well, I mean, it's it's like a it's about the size of a school bus and it's like it's being driven around by a drunk.
Yeah. Like auto after he took some shrooms or something, totally spinning uncontrollably through space. It's like actually one of the more dangerous things up there in the space debris field right now.
Yes, so they put out this call, said he's got a good idea. Feel free to try it on the Envisat if if you want to get close to it. And in twenty eighteen, a group from Surrey University came up with that removed debris system where it was basically a ballistic module that attacked this stuff with a harpoon in a net and pushes or pulls it out of orbit and basically just kind of speeds up the process. It's not like they literally drag it back down to earth and, you know, stand on it and get their picture taken.
But they disrupted enough to speed up the process that would inevitably happen anyway.
Yeah, it's kind of close to that, though, like that test that they ran in twenty eighteen, like the net was successful, the harpoon was successful. But then it's supposed to also deploy a dragnet to slow the thing down and then make it, you know, fall toward earth. But the dragnet didn't didn't go but everything else did. And then there was another company, a Swiss company called Clear Space, that was working directly with the USA to launch Claw's little claws that go see confined space junk clomp onto it and then just basically drag it down and to its own death.
Kind of like, you know, the the guy that you just were. You pushed off the cliff and he grabbed onto your ankle. And then at the last second, he took you down with them and you both go, that's what this claw basically does to poor space junk.
Yeah, the magnet thing kind of. And we did a show on magnets and I remember it kind of broke my brain. But is there such a thing as a magnet that when it attracts thing and there was more to that question, when it attracts things that stick to the magnet, those things also become magnetized? Oh, that's a great question, Scott, because, you know, what I'm getting at here is basically a magnet that just keeps growing and growing and growing and just spinning through the universe, collecting everything in its path until it's this giant thing.
Chuck, that is the very title of the third album by Buffalo's Space Junk is Long Way, Not As Long as Fiona Apples, but I think it's second place.
Her new album is great, by the way.
I haven't heard it, but I imagine it's also she's a genius, but I don't know, it's probably a silly idea or maybe just a magnet big enough to collect enough stuff and then blow that thing up.
I would guess. I mean, I don't think is a silly idea. I think magnets probably are the wave of the future for this stuff because harpoons, nets, claws, all of these things work for, say, intact satellites, large ones. And by the way, the EASA backed off of its Envisat bounty because it realised very quickly were many years off from being able to take something that large out of orbit.
But it's still going strong. It's still hurdling uncontrollably through space the size of a school bus, but that it's still like large pieces that these things take. And as we've said, like smaller debris is a real, real problem up in space. So I could see it being something like magnets or a whale sharks filter teeth kind of thing. But up in space that somehow collects debris in a bag. I don't know exactly like krill. Yeah, basically like treating it like krill.
We need a we need a robot space shak space whale swam with whale sharks. Oh, one hundred years ago, of course.
Can you imagine never forgetting that that was so long ago and that crazy. It really was. It was a good decade. Right. No, it had to be a guess, I'm just sort of marveling that we're still doing this. Know, yeah, a long time left to sort of wake up. I hope so. Are you telling me to wake up or everyone else? Everybody else, OK. There are also daubing. I mean, we have successfully and other companies have successfully orbited satellites.
It is a thing we don't leave everything up there. SpaceX, I remember, you know, very famously, they have the the Falcon rocket that was able to come back down to earth and be and docking again. It was super cool.
Yeah. You thought that was actually use it, Don.
Everybody was talking about him that day, too, and he loved it. Yeah, he made the news. Yeah. So that's actually a new best practices, basically reuse stuff. Just get it back out. And even if you can't reuse it again, like SpaceX does with their boosters at the very least, make part of launching a satellite, the like like deorbit in the upper stage of the rocket, like immediately. There's no reason to just leave your rocket parts up there anymore.
Like, you can you can attach stuff to a propulsion systems to get it back down into Earth's atmosphere to burn up at if you're not going to reuse it. So that's a definite best practice that's emerging for sure.
The Falcon worked. All right. Didn't that thing landed safely?
I saw it with my own eyes. Yeah. I saw the heavy boosters land with my own eyes and, you know, cool, synchronize them. They came down at the same time, landed at the same time after launching a rocket on our space.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean, that's really cool, though.
And I got to hand it to that guy. He definitely thinks of things that don't seem possible and somehow I was able to make them possible.
I know. And that's I mean, that's another thing, too. Like he just like there's a lot a lot you can say about his personality, but some of his problem solving skills make things seem like so it makes it look like you turn to everybody else and be like, why haven't you been doing this this whole time, too? Yeah. Like, for example, he's the starship that things can start ferrying people the moon and beyond. Eventually, one of its things is going to be when it comes back down to earth.
Is the space junk on the way or the Starlink satellite. SpaceX is Starling's satellites. They're all going to be able to autonomously move based on debris tracking data here on Earth. So they'll just be able to move themselves. There's just like just basic stuff that seems like why we've been doing this all along.
And I mean, it's it's a good question.
You know, it's been a while since you've fanboy on Elon Musk. I know I've had some ups and downs, cool stuff.
And to you know, I mentioned earlier that in seventy eight, Skylab fell in Western Australia.
And what we can't do is human to say, well, you know, it fell in the Australian outback. It's very sparsely populated. So it's all good. It was probably there are people there and there are ecosystems there and it is nature and the planet. And it's it is a big deal. Just because it didn't fall on New York City or, you know, downtown L.A. or something doesn't mean it wasn't a problem. It was a problem. And I think in twenty nineteen, NASA said that as much as 16 percent of that ISIS is going to survive re-entry when it eventually comes back down to earth.
Yeah. So when you have something like the ISIS whose ultimate fate is up in the air, still, literally, you have to plan to deorbit it like you can't just leave something that big up there. It would just create too much space debris and other space stations like the Mir and China's Tiangong two, I think one in two space labs, both were brought down. And some of this stuff is going to survive. Like you said, the space station's part of that is going to survive.
Some of the Mir survived. Some of the Tiangong survived. And you don't want that that re enactment of Skylab now. So they've figured out that if they crash land these things into like a really remote part of the ocean probably will be fine. And there's a point in the ocean in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo and NASA and the other space agencies have been landing, crash landing. Deorbit did enormous stuff there for decades. But it wasn't until 1992 that a survey engineer named Verité Luca Talla.
A Croatian, I believe, use this brand new software. This is 1992 and triangulated the furthest spot from land in the world. And he said it's basically point nimo this area that the space agencies have been using already for decades. They had it basically. Right on the money. Yeah, so I mean, it's fourteen hundred miles away from the nearest landmass, it's supposedly the one point on Earth further away from any other piece of land. And a little fun tidbit about those that exact degree of longitude and latitude is that H.P. Lovecraft wrote about the old ones were the old ones lived and actually gave coordinates that were really, really close to these actual calculated coordinates.
It's kind of great to think about that. But I also think if you if you had a good enough flat map of the earth, you could probably stand back and eyeball what looks like its furthest away from anything. And you're probably close to Point Nemo, because that's what NASA did. Yeah, that's basically what they did. And so this area point Nemo, I mean, the fact that it's called Point Nemo makes you think like me. And they've been crash landing spacecraft and space stations there for decades.
There's must just be like the most amazing place to go tour in like a sub. But the thing is, is when you crash land something like space station, the debris field that creates is coming into the ocean could be almost a thousand miles long. And it's not like they hit the target every single time. So it's actually like a really huge, enormous tens of thousands, if not millions of square miles wide area. That's what point Nemo is.
It's kind of a misnomer, actually.
Yeah, because I think people like when is it going to start poking its little head above the ocean surface? Right. Like a big stack of junk under there. Exactly. Pretty cool, though.
It is very cool. And also, if you're like, well, what about the fish? Do not worry. It turns out the point Nemo is one of the least biodiverse parts of the ocean around.
So they say and get this, Chuck, you want a little cherry on top of our sun here?
I would love that. I always loved the cherry.
99 percent invisible has not done an episode on Point Nemo in your face, Mr. Mars to it.
That's awesome. There's a recent episode that they did on the movie theater megaplex history. That's really great.
Oh, yeah, of course. I mean, it's 99 percent invisible. Yeah. You got anything else? I got nothing else. All right. Well, if you want to know more about space junk to start reading about it, there's a lot of really great articles out there.
And since I said that, it's time for listener mail, I'm going to call this what the writer called it. My husband is jealous of Josh and Josh. OK, hope you guys are both well. I wanted to share with you the stuff you should know is having an unpleasant effect on my marriage. You see, my husband works nights, and while I'm a strong, independent person who could hold my own, I still like to have a little background noise to soothe me to sleep.
Most nights that means falling asleep to the dulcet tones of maybe how the Black Panther Party worked or Ogami colon folding goodness. Every morning when my husband gets home, he begrudgingly acknowledges the other men in the room and pauses my ass. However, we hit a breaking point recently when he returned to find the stuff you should know incomplete compendium of mostly interesting things.
Book open on his pillow with me snuggled against a comfortably enraged, he tossed it on the floor and we exchanged words. Oh boy. So yeah, you could say my husband is super jealous of Josh and Chuck. All that to say, here's a big thank you for keeping me company and helping me, helping this gal sleep tight every night. Lots of love to my main squeezes. REI she hers from Phoenix.
All right, Ray. Hopefully that was mostly tongue in cheek.
I think so. OK, so no one would be a problem in anybody's marriage, you know. No. GISTARO Right.
Well, thanks a lot, Ray, and sleep tight as always. Hopefully you guys can work it out. Maybe just get him to read the stuff you should book in. He'll be like, no, I want the book tonight. And that's what the problem is. Yeah, that's the easiest thing is to convert. Exactly.
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