Tuesday, November 9, 2010

While we’re at it, let’s junk up the galaxy

God did not intend for man to own goats. God intended man to wish for goats, and when he finally bought them, penned them up in the back yard and then chased them around the neighborhood when they got out, to realize just how stupid he was for buying goats.

But this story is not about goats, God or stupidity. It’s about space junk. Lots and lots of space junk – stuff like bolts, gloves and broken-down satellites that are hurtling mere feet over our houses, threatening to fall out of the sky and bonk us on our heads without warning.

According to NASA, 19,000 objects larger than your cell phone but smaller than a school bus are known to be circling the Earth.

“Ethel, did you hear what that man said? He said there’s a school bus up there in space.”

“No, Howard, that’s not what he said. Now stop interrupting the story, and go back to watching football.”

Most of the big pieces of junk are spent upper stages of launch vehicles or satellites that have just pooped out. These objects are being tracked by NASA and the Air Force’s Space Command. But then there are approximately 500,000 small pieces of space garbage floating around all willy-nilly like, and even though they can be seen by radar, they’re just basically left to fend for themselves, which seems sad in a weird sort of way.

(QUESTION: If NASA can locate an iPod-sized piece of trash circling 1242 miles out in space, why can’t we find Osama bin Laden right down here on Earth? Just thought I’d put that out there.)

“Ethel, that man said NASA has found Osama bin Laden hiding out in space.”

“Howard, will you please just shut up?”

All in all, there are approximately 4 million pounds of junk floating around up there in our front yard, making us look like the “Sanford and Son” of the universe. All we need is an old washing machine and broken toilet to complete the trashy-neighbor picture.

Supposedly, our space-junk problem is not going to get any better. We keep throwing trash out our little rocket windows, and nobody as of yet has come up with a solution to pick it all up – until now:

I think we need some goats up there. Space Goats. Mechanical, computerized, artificially-intelligent eating machines that will gobble all that trash up there and give us back the pristine space that Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus looked through while discovering whatever it was they discovered.

Space Goats. Tools employed by Space Waste Management – the galaxy’s “leading provider of integrated solutions to reduce waste in space while recovering valuable resources and creating clean, renewable energy.”

Yep, that’s what the company’s website would proclaim. But you and I both know that goats like to wander off from their assigned coordinates, and Space Goats would be no different. They’d probably head over to the International Space Station, munch on some solar panels for awhile, then meander over to The Asteroid Belt and be pummeled to smithereens until they, too, become nothing more than space junk.

Okay, so since the goats won’t work, what we need is some enterprising young whippersnapper to develop a way to bring down all those pieces of junk and sell them at a roadside space junk stand. Maybe call it Billy’s Out-Of-This-World Flea Market.

Welcome to Billy’s. We have flecks of paint, pieces of destroyed satellites, nuts, bolts, screws, even an astronaut’s glove. Anything smaller than a lock nut is $5. Want to take home a complete satellite? We can finance that for you! New stock added every day. Come on in and look around. If we haven’t got it, we can go get it.

“Howard, did you hear about that new flea market out on FM 102? How about you and I go out and do some shopping? I’d really love you for it. Please? Please? Please?”

“Not now, Ethel. I’m watching the game.”

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