Since he was three, my grandson has been into garbage. At birthday parties he was often more interested in the discarded wrappings than the gift. And boxes? One year while his sister was opening her gifts, he was quietly gathering all the empty boxes and secreting them in his room. There he would stack them or fill them with toys or use them to contain the other things he had gathered–ribbons and tape and crumbled balls of paper. Let me emphasize, he has a wonderful, understanding and very patient mother.
Of course the next step was garbage trucks. He received two that were predominately labeled as trucks for recycling. He got the concept with no problem and with this awareness for his fourth birthday, a friend gave him a video about recycling. He truly enjoyed it and watched it over and over, always intent on sharing it with visitors.
The arrival of the garbage and recycling trucks on Monday morning became a big event–a routine that he looked forward to. Hearing the approaching trucks, he and his mom would go outside and wave to the driver, Santos. This became such a ritual, that when I was visiting and my grandson was occupied elsewhere, Santos waved to me and yelled: “Say hi to Brennan for me.” Loved that.
So when my grandson’s fourth birthday rolled around, I wrote to Waste Management and they actually created a HAPPY BIRTHDAY card for Brennan, citing Santos and saying, of course, that they so appreciated our business! The letter was a big hit at his birthday celebration.
Now Brennan is almost six. Last Sunday he told me: “We need a garbage truck up in space. We need to start collecting garbage in space.” And then today the following headline appeared in the LA TIMES: SPACE JUNK PROBLEMS SPURS WILD SOLUTIONS. Was some reporter eavesdropping on our conversation? For I immediately jumped into this discussion with him, sharing the little knowledge of the problem I had, probably from the movie GRAVITY more than any other source. In the film, space junk crashes into human-run space vehicles causing damage and even death.
But there we were, Brennan and I, discussing this problem and how to solve it. We got so animated that after a moment I noticed that some folks on the other side of the room were listening to our conversation. I lowered my voice. I have little knowledge of these things, but realized that again–Brennan was interested and to keep up I better educate myself.
One solution: that of Aerospace Corp. states that they would blast thousands of tiny flat spacecraft into orbit to find and hug the bits and pieces of failed satellites and rockets, then drag them into the atmosphere where they would burn up. Wow.
J.C. Liou, who is the NASA chief scientist for orbit debris states that there are more than 7.000 metric tons of material in the near-Earth space environment. Such material can slam into a satellite or spacecraft going six miles per second, so that there is fear that debris the size of a sand grain could be catastrophic.
Another idea: a giant net that would be able to gather space junk and then set off a bomb to knock all of it out of orbit. But certainly finding the technology to clean up space is only part of the problem. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command of which the United States and Canada are a part, are tracking 22,000 pieces of space debris, but only 16,000 of these pieces can be traced to the state or and owner who launched the vehicle or craft where the debris came from. Cleanup needs to be legally run. There are liability issues pertaining to someone else’s JUNK.
Here’s a statement by Brian Weedon of the Secure World Foundation. His words could provide a possible scenario for a film or a book: “Let’s say that you have Bob’s Debris Removal service and you go up there and your mission is to grapple with this rocket body, grab a hold of it and deal with it somehow, and in the process of doing so it explodes because it’s got leftover fuel inside.” Wow again. I wish I felt capable of writing in the science fiction genre–but the scariest part is that this stuff is real and presents real problems. It’s fascinating and yet so complicated.
In our world today, there is so much information swirling around us, things to consider, to worry about or to be excited about. But if my grandson can be considering this issue of space junk at his young age, I’m thinking he just might be part of some think tank that figures it out–maybe much sooner than later. And I applaud Brennan and other children like him–they don’t get stuck on one idea. There minds roam and come up with more STUFF and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch. After all, they are THE FUTURE.
photo: thespacereporter.com cartoon: www.davidreneke.com www.pinterest.com