By Christopher Cudworth
You all know I keep a close eye out for your running and riding welfare. This blog has taught you about the dangers of tarsnakes and cosmic bike wobble, and how to avoid being eaten by an invasion of polar bears. Well today’s We Run and Ride is going to cover another threat to your earthly well-being. Yes, we’re going to engage in a serious discussion about space junk.
In case you have not heard, the earth is now basically encased in a speeding ring of space junk circling the planet at breakneck speed. 17,000 miles per hour to be exact. And you might think we’re safe down here, but that’s because you are not old enough to recall the falling of Skylab, which was described this way back in 1979:
“With varying degrees of fear, anger and fascination, but mostly with a detached kind of bemusement, the world this week awaits an unprecedented event: the fiery fall of the largest machine man has ever hurled into space. The American Sky lab vehicle, nine stories tall and weighing 77.5 tons, is expected to slip into the earth’s upper atmosphere, then disintegrate into a celestial shower of flaming metal as spectacular as any of last week’s Fourth of July fireworks displays. Somewhere, probably at sea, ten fragments, each weighing 1,000 Ibs. or more, will crash to earth at speeds of up to 270 m.p.h. with the force of a dying meteor. Thus will be observed, after a series of miscalculations, the tenth anniversary of man’s proudest achievement in space, the walk on the moon.”
That is some serious space junk.
It’s no exaggeration. We must account for the crap we’ve launched into space. Most of it is caught in a permanent orbit around the earth. Our planet may soon have visible rings the likes of Saturn. The Chicago Tribune published this report on July 9, 2014: ” Right now, millions of objects are whizzing around earth faster than speeding bullets. Much of this is celestial garbage––remnants of past missions and cosmic collision that have taken place over half a century.”
So let’s be honest. This is scary stuff. And it’s not made up. If the current pace of space junk keeps up, we’ll be trapped here on earth. And that’s a bad thing because if our current pace of pollution and global warming continue, we’re pretty much going to want to leave this place behind. There will be no more running and riding and swimming when the roads melt and the seas rise.
But we won’t be able to leave this planet if the razor sharp, speeding garbage now orbiting the earth threatens to take out our rocket ships. So what are we going to do about it? We’re going to spend $914.7M to set up a surveillance system that will provide a continuous view of what’s up there. A Space Fence.
Of course we already have a surveillance system for all the junk down here on the earth. It’s called the Internet, which makes it easy to find all the Stupid Shit said by people like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, both of whom appear to be Fembots from the planet Shitfest. The things that come out of their mouths go into orbit on the Internet and have been known to take down intelligent people through collision with their brain cells.
But the worst offender is Fox News, which daily sends a newsfeed of spaced out junk with a partisan bent so obvious it’s like an used-up Gemini capsule hurtling toward your noggin. Yet there are still people who nod and say, “Gee, I didn’t see that coming. Thanks for telling me.”
In fact if you saw the movie Gravity starring Whatsherbutt Bullock floating around a space lab in tiny black shorts, you know that getting hit by space debris is no small risk. It tears up your gizmos and your doohickeys, leaving you in the confines of a space cabin wearing little more than you might normally sport on a 5K run.
She’s lucky she wasn’t entirely naked under that space suit or we’d have seen clear up her orifices as if she was a sea anemone. That’s how Hollywood likes its female stars to approach moviemaking anyway.
The clouds of space debris that hit her ship are circling the earth at speeds faster than the sprinters in the Tour de France. And there’s so much space junk up there that currently every launch of a space-bound satellite or other flying object must be timed to avoid being obliterated by the minefield of orbiting degree.
Perhaps you did not know all this? Perhaps you also did not know that President Ronald Reagan wandered around the White House for nearly three years with his hands happily flapping at his sides while his minions actually ran the country because his brain was fried from the early stages of Alzheimers? Or that LBJ was a politically savvy and mean sonofabitch who might well have had a hand in killing JFK?
There’s a lot of things we still don’t know about life and the universe. But at least you now know that we’re also really fucking up Outer Space while we cook like frogs in our own atmosphere down below. There are chunks of Chinese satellites from when they blasted their own equipment to pieces, and some defunct Russian satellite crashed into a functioning US satellite throwing 2,000 scraps of space trash into 17,000 mph orbit as well.
And so it goes. While down here on earth we run and ride in similar fashion. Why, just a few weeks ago I crashed into a downed tree and nearly exploded myself into a thousand pieces. I even left a chunk of my chin on that tree.
It makes one wonder whether we’re all just space junk of one kind or another. Just random bits of carbon with a brain driving us around. We run and ride as fast as we can and sooner or later we run into shit or crash on the ground like Chris Froome in the 2014 Tour de France.
You’ll recall that all this started way back in the 1950s with the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States. And despite all our advances in technology since then, we keep pumping crap into the atmosphere and beyond like there’s no tomorrow. But rest assured, they’ve got us covered. “Our system will do precision tracking,” says Steve Bruce of Lockheed, inventors of all things that go zoom and boom, “That’s what makes it so good.”
Just what we need. A really precise way to tell us that we’ve fucked up the immediate universe. That’s like a running or cycling coach telling us, “Hey, go right through that forest over here and never mind the trees.”
Genius. Aren’t we?