We still marvel at the amazing feats of space missions and astronauts but we are no longer an unusual presence among the stars. As a matter of fact, we've launched and left behind so much stuff in Earth's orbit that we're having to take serious measures to clean up our space junk and prevent sending up more.
RELATED: Chasing the Northern Lights
NASA tracks more than 500,000 pieces of debris. Some of this is natural, like meteoroids, but a lot of it is artificial - things like nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, and fragments of whatever else we've shot up there. This debris travels up to 17,500 mph, so it poses a threat to spacecraft and satellites that are in orbit. Over 20,000 pieces of debris are larger than a softball. What's really worrisome, however, are the pieces of debris so small that they can't be tracked. At the speeds they are traveling, NASA says that even a paint fleck can damage a spacecraft.
As this problem shows, we can't just blow up our space junk. That would just create a whole mess of tiny, but still very dangerous, pieces of debris. Some scientists are working on a kind of space net to capture debris, others propose sending up spacecrafts for the sole purpose of latching it onto space junk and then sending it to the ocean's depths, which, in recent years, has become the disposal method of choice.
Watch more Seeker:
How This Man Fell From The Edge of Space
Read more about space junk:
NASA: Space Debris and Human Spacecraft
PBS: Steady Stream of Space Debris Rains Down on Earth