Space

UK Artists and Scientists Launch Space Junk Awareness Project

Humans pollute wherever they go, so it’s not much of a surprise that even outer space is littered with the remains of used rockets, satellite fragments, a lost camera, and even a spatula. The debris is moving at the staggering velocity of 8 kilometers (5 miles) per second and even a tiny bit is extremely dangerous. 

A group of British scientists and artists have got together to raise awareness of the increasing problem of space junk and started Adrift, an online interactive project that combines short documentaries, an art installation, and twitter bots to familiarized people with the pollution 225 kilometers (140 miles) above our heads.

“Tackling the problem of space debris is one of humankind’s greatest environmental challenges, but it is also perhaps the one that is the least known,” Dr Hugh Lewis, Head of Astronautics Research at the University of Southampton and member of the advisory board of Adrift, told the press.

“It’s that the actions of our generation may affect the dreams and ambitions of future generations to work and live in space.”

There are over 100 million pieces of debris orbiting in space and they are a risk to satellites and astronauts alike. And yet, neither “space junk” nor “space debris” truly captures the variety of what’s out there. Now two award-winning artists, Cath Le Couteur and Nick Ryan, along with creative technologist Daniel Jones have combined data from NASA (which monitors the 27,000 items of debris larger than 10cm [4 inches]) and created three interactive tweet bots.

There’s Vanguard, the oldest piece of space debris and the second US satellite, which has been orbiting our planet since 1958. There’s also Fengyun, one of the 150,000 fragments of a Chinese weather satellite, which was intentionally destroyed in 2007 and will burn up in the atmosphere on January 1, 2017. And finally, there’s SuitSat, an empty Russian spacesuit equipped with a radio transmitter that communicated with radio amateurs in 2006. Suitsat is actually a ghost as it burnt down only a few months after it was released.

Adrift Machine 9 launch film 720p from [email protected] on Vimeo.

Ryan is also responsible for Machine 9, an electromechanical sound instrument that transforms the movement of the 27,000 tracked pieces of space debris into sound in real time. The machine is a large aluminum cylinder that has 1,000 sounds engraved like grooves on a record, played by eight styluses activated by the data from NASA.

Le Couteur is responsible for a new short documentary about the varied world of space junk and space junk hunters. It talks about the space spatula lost by astronaut Piers Sellers of the Collowara Observatory (the first observatory in South America to be founded and run by women) as well as featuring haunting footage of space debris falling out of the sky in Thailand.

The full project can be seen on the Adrift website and it is supported by The Space, a BBC and Arts Council-funded initiative.

Adrift – the hidden world of space junk. from Cath Le Couteur on Vimeo.

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