Whenever I’m outside at night looking at the stars I see things whizzing across the sky. They seem to come from anywhere and travel in any direction, and after reading the article quoted below I understand why.
Rather shocking though was this image and its explanatory text:
The third reason to move a satellite is to avoid space junk, orbital debris, that may be in its path. On February 11, a communication satellite owned by Iridium, a U.S. company, collided with a non-functioning Russian satellite. Both satellites broke apart, creating a field of debris that contained at least 2,500 pieces. Each piece of debris was added to the database of more than 18,000 manmade objects currently in Earth orbit and tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network.
Thousands of manmade objects — 95 % of them “space junk” — occupy low Earth orbit. Each black dot in this image shows either a functioning satellite, an inactive satellite, or a piece of debris. Although the space near Earth looks crowded, each dot is much larger than the satellite or debris it represents, and collisions are extremely rare. (NASA illustration courtesy Orbital Debris Program Office.)
I’ve had to reduce the image size and quality to fit on this page. I suggest you go and look at the original, for a better view of those 18,000 items swarming round the Earth.
I still think ‘rocket science’ is an apt comparison for something that’s very hard. I can’t imagine how they track all those bits of junk and keep them from colliding with the Space Station, the Shuttle and other stuff that needs protecting.