SJS ”..would prefer to spend our explorative efforts in space where there is enough room to do so without spoiling a fragile paradise...”
I too, am "saddened", and agree that we could use a "little unexplored [read: un-exploited ?]
Mankind has an insatiable quest for knowledge, for exploration, and for discovery. That's why what we've done to our oceans, and (now) to near-earth space orbit is so shameful disgusting and (ultimately) short-sighted .
Space, much as our oceans used to be, is commonly thought of as a vast emptiness. Stars, planets, asteroids and gaseous clouds are contained within this vast void. And this is a (more or less) correct view of most of space. But within the part of space known as near earth orbit there is a lot more stuff in space. It's man-made junk. Millions (perhaps Billions of pieces) of old space ships, satellites, rockets are right now orbiting the earth at speeds between about 20,000 and 25,000 miles per hour, at altitudes from hundreds of miles to many thousands of miles around and above the earth.
A BB-sized piece of aluminum
hurtling around the earth at 22,000 miles per hour has about as much kinetic energy as a bowling ball does at 60 miles an hour. In other words, if a BB-sized piece of aluminum
strikes the space shuttle from a perpendicular direction (comes in from the side), it will have the same force as a bowling ball would if dropped on the space shuttle from about 100 feet high. If the BB-sized piece of aluminum collides head-on with the space shuttle, the effect would be much, much worse.
To put this in perspective, the heat shields on the space shuttle can be scratched and broken with a fingernail! So imagine what a bowling ball dropped from 100 feet could do!
But there are, of course, much bigger and more dangerous pieces of space junk than BB-sized pieces of aluminum. A piece of space debris the size of a small marble, traveling at 22,000 miles per hour, has the kinetic energy of a 400 pound safe dropped from about 100 feet. Imagine the damage that would do if it hits something like the future space station FREEDOM, or a space ship. A 1999 study estimated there are some 4 million pounds of space junk in low-Earth orbit, just one part of a celestial sea of roughly 110,000 objects larger than 1 centimeter in diameter.
The true legacy of man's early exploration of space will be that future generations will curse us and despise us for polluting that part of space through which all other space exploration must start (near earth orbit). We are in essence closing the door in front of us - the door to the stars, the other planets, and to the moon. Indeed, the door to mankind's future. By making all future astronauts run a deadly gauntlet at the start of every flight, we have guaranteed that accidents, disasters, and major malfunctions (as NASA first described the Challenger disaster) will continue to occur. What some feel is our greatest achievement - space exploration and walking on the moon, and sending exploratory space craft to the other planets, has left a legacy of pollution that will haunt future generations for tens of thousands of years.
Not long ago, the world’s oceans were thought to be self-perpetuating due to their immense size and volume. Let’s not let that same sort of hubris blind us to the finite ability of our universe to cleanse itself of mankind’s detritus.