Thousands of pieces of "space junk" orbit our planet.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of ESA.

Space Junk

On Earth, humans make trash. This trash can pollute our environment. Humans are doing the same thing in space. Right now there are millions of man-made objects floating in space called "space junk". Space junk includes things like satellites that don't work anymore or paint that has fallen off of the space shuttle.

Man-made junk orbits at a speed of 28,000 km/hr (17,500 miles/hour)! That's much faster then any human could drive! Even a grape-sized object could ruin a satellite if it hit at such a high speed!

Spacecraft, including the International Space Station (ISS), must be protected by shields that are not hurt when they get hit with space junk. Or the spacecraft must be able to move out of the way so it doesn't get hit by the space junk.

Last modified February 13, 2009 by Randy Russell.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Elliptical Orbits

Do you think Earth moves around the Sun in a circle? That is almost true, but not quite. The shape of Earth's orbit isn't quite a perfect circle. It is more like a "stretched out" circle or an...more

International Space Station

There is a large space station circling Earth right now. It is called the International Space Station (ISS for short). Astronauts live and work in the ISS. Sixteen countries, including the United States,...more

Satellites Collide in Earth Orbit!

In February 2009 two satellites in Earth orbit crashed into each other. The satellites were smashed into thousands of little pieces. That was the first time ever for a major collision between two satellites...more

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is really neat! It was first launched in 1990, but scientists started building it in the 1970's! We have found all kinds of objects like stars, nebulae and galaxies. The...more

Apollo 11

Apollo 11 was the first mission that landed a person on the moon. On July 16, 1969, the U. S. rocket Saturn 5 was launched carrying the lunar landing module Eagle. The Eagle was released and it reached...more

Apollo 12

Apollo 12 was launched on Nov. 14, 1969 and arrived at the Moon three days later. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean descended to its surface, while Richard Gordon remained in lunar orbit aboard the...more

Apollo 15

Apollo 15 marked the start of a new series of missions from the Apollo space program, each capable of exploring more lunar terrain than ever before. Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 reached the Moon...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA