Around the planet Earth you'll find no shortage of bits and pieces of matter - quite a bit of it metal - left there by humans in their efforts to explore space. NASA this week is bringing on the newest in a line of warnings about the danger of said space junk, this time showing a near-crash of two metal bodies, one of them being a $690 million dollar space telescope. The other, a 1.5-ton Russian reconnaissance satellite, narrowly avoided smashing the first in what would have been a very costly error.
The video you're about to see was created by NASA as an accurate approximation of the paths that these two heavenly bodies followed. As is the norm with this sort of situation with more than one country's hardware in the mix, this event has been under wraps for some time. The actual near-crash occurred on April 3rd of 2012, just over a year ago.
NASA has made clear that the hit was avoided only due to the quick action of engineers working to dodge disaster with a blast of the craft's thrusters. The NASA craft, otherwise known as the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and the Russian craft would have passed the same point in space within 30 milliseconds of one another if it had not been for engineer action on the ground.
Though the Russian craft was traveling at approximately 27,000 miles per hour (43,452 km/h) in relation to Fermi, ended up avoiding a crash by 6 miles (9 km) when they'd have otherwise hit. According to NASA, the actual move was relatively easy, when it came down to it.
"The maneuver, which was performed by the spacecraft itself based on procedures we developed a long time ago, was very simple, just firing all thrusters for one second. There was a lot of suspense and tension leading up to it, but once it was over, we just sighed with relief that it all went well." -Eric Stoneking, attitude control lead engineer for Fermi at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Below you'll find a second video, this one emphasizing the importance of relieving our near-earth space junk in the near future. The European Space Agency has held six conferences thus far dedicated solely to fighting the space junk threat, and several countries have begun tests of space junk destruction for the future.