Sunday, April 13, 2008

Space junk

I'm always surprised at how people seem to think the space around the earth is full of junk. In this case they cite 5600 satellites still in orbit...

Wow that's a lot.

Right? Except venture a guess sometime as to how many cars there are in Tucson. Maybe fifty thousand! or more? And on their graphic of the earth, all of those would fit in a single dot easily! Now imagine that I blindfolded/earmuffed you, dropped you at a random location within Tucson, and gave you a bow and arrow and one shot -- what are the chances that you, in some random location, not seeing or hearing, would happen to hit a car with that shot? You think your chances of happening into space junk is good, toodleing around up there?

Space is *huge*, folks.

Your risk is measured by the probability of occurrence times the consequence of failure. When it comes to space junk, the "probability of occurrence" of a collision is terribly low. No, no -- what you need to worry about is the "consequence of failure", which is terrible, as space junk (or you) tends to be flying at thousands of miles an hour.

Getting hit by a wrench flying many times faster than a rifle bullet sounds painful. Very unlikely, but very painful.

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