A&M-Commerce Planetarium presents “Space Junk”

Kelly Fulton, Staff Writer

The movie Gravity (2013) featured a spacecraft destroyed by a storm of space debris caused by the collision of two satellites, a scenario of catastrophic satellite destruction that can actually happen.

The mounting threat of debris in Earth’s orbit, the potential dangers and what can possibly be done to avoid a crisis is the focus of the film “Space Junk,” being presented at the A&M-Commerce Planetarium.

The state-of-the-art planetarium opens it’s doors to students and residents of Commerce for a unique viewing experience, mostly associated with celestial phenomena and history.

According to an official document from NASA, there are more than 200,000 trackable pieces of “space junk,” larger than a softball orbiting the Earth. This debris can reach speeds of up to 17,500 mph with the potential to destroy satellites or a spacecraft. Also there is the treat of non-trackable debris, which is so tiny that it cannot be picked up by tracking satellites, yet is powerful enough to damage satellites upon impact pose a threat to communication and national security.

Then there is the Kessler effect, which surmises that too much space debris would render space activities and exploration unfeasible for many generations.

When a satellite stops working, it doesn’t come back to Earth. Typically, the cost is too high to send another craft to retrieve it, so for 50 years, defunct satellites have stayed in Earth’s orbit. This didn’t become a problem until 1996, when a French satellite was hit and damaged by debris from a rocket that exploded 10 years prior.

“Space Junk” explores options for cleaning up Earth’s orbit such as a “debris collector,” a robotic spacecraft that would essential act as a garbage man. Another option is a giant net, which would collect debris as it flies close to the spacecraft anchoring it.

“Space Junk” concludes with the notion that everything and everyone makes an impact on the Earth’s land, sea and sky.

The Planetarium will be showing “Space Junk” on Fridays at 7 p.m. until Nov. 13. Tickets are available in the Planetarium gift shop of the McFarland Science Building.