NASA and NORAD are among several agencies worldwide that track debris in space, Warren explained. And orbital trash is no joke, especially if you're on the International Space Station.
“It is an issue,” Warren said. “Every once in a while, the space station has to be moved if a large enough piece of debris gets within a certain boundary.”
Warren said space junk is largely pieces of older satellites that have long ago been abandoned into decaying orbits. Retrieving the trash is a major challenge, and different space agencies have proposed various solutions to the dilemma.
“It's one of the problems we have, definitely,” Warren said. “We've got a bunch of debris, and much of it is the result of human space flight. There have been emergencies where the astronauts get a call from mission control, and they get told, ‘Hey, there is debris headed your way. So go get in your lifeboat and we'll tell you when it passes.’”
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Warren said the situation happens maybe twice a year aboard the ISS. In addition, the International Space Station is constantly being bombarded with micrometeorites — tiny bits of space rock that leave pings and dents in the station’s outward facing hull.
“Luckily, it's got some good shielding to prevent serious damage,” she said.
Tune in to Bad Science this week for more details on the modern classic Gravity, including some informed conjecture on what happens to the human body when it's exposed to the vacuum of space.
“It's unpleasant,” according to Warren.
As host Edenberg points out, Gravity is a particularly good subject for the Bad Science podcast treatment because the film’s producers worked directly with NASA and other space agencies to ensure accuracy.
In other words, there's a lot of science in the movie, and it's not bad at all.