Space junk concern grows as rocket crashes into the Moon

Pollution on Earth is a problem we’re all familiar with, but what about the ever-growing collection of junk orbiting outside of our planet? This month a rocket crashed onto the Moon’s surface, making it the first instance of an unintentional impact on the neighbouring natural satellite. This event has led to increased worry from space scientists about the amount of debris being caused by space exploration.

The aged three-ton machinery thought to be part of a rocket booster used to launch a Chinese spacecraft in 2014 collided with the far side of the lunar surface. After drifting through the dark abyss of space for the past few years, its untimely end is estimated to have left a crater of around 10 to 20 metres in diameter, kicking up large swathes of dust as a result. As daunting as the event sounds, some scientists were lying in wait for a chance to observe the incident. As with other previously planned crashes into the satellite body, seismic waves generated from the impact of such collisions can be analysed in order to estimate the qualities and content of the Moon’s interior. Other intentional crashes of “space-ware” into the Moon were controlled in order to bring an end to lunar observational missions.

However, regardless of the scientific or accidental reasons, this consequence of space exploration has many growing concerns with the mounting levels of debris being left on the Lunar surface. Around our own planet, there is an estimated 27,000 pieces or more of space junk being tracked in orbit by NASA. This kind of debris poses security risks to certain nations due to increased difficulty in identifying objects, some of which may be satellites of other countries. Additionally, it poses a hazard to already existing satellites and active space machinery capable of colliding with the floating garbage. This happened in 2009, when a U.S. owned spacecraft met its fate with an out-of-commission Russian spacecraft, resulting in even more space debris being released. 

In response to the growing cislunar (the space between Earth and the Moon) and space junk, the Australian Earth Laws Alliance has published a ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Moon’. Other nations and organisations have favoured more practical methods of mitigating the growth of debris by investigating ways to physically remove it. This has proven to be extremely challenging so far, however, many space researchers and scientists believe it is imperative to make note of the impact humans are having on areas outside our own planet.

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Mariam Jallow

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June 2022
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