Space junk

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In a famous scene from the 2008 animated movie WALL-E, a rocket streaks up from Earth’s surface, a tiny robot clinging to its side. Before reaching open space, the rocket punctures a thick layer of old satellites jostling cheek by jowl. As the layer cracks open, space junk erupts, scattering satellites like winged flies. A silver flagellated sphere gets caught in the robot’s head before drifting off. The angles of its antenna are instantly recognizable; it’s Sputnik 1, the first satellite ever launched, now reduced to just another piece of junk in the orbiting scrap yard. The message from this future world is clear. Just as Earth’s surface has been polluted to the point where all human life has abandoned it, so too has the space surrounding Earth been choked with the endlessly circulating junk of the late industrial age.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarth 2020
Subtitle of host publicationAn Insider’s Guide to a Rapidly Changing Planet
EditorsPhilippe Tortell
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78374-847-1, 978-1-78374-848-8, 978-1-78374-849-5, 978-1-78374-850-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-78374-845-7, 978-1-78374-846-4
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0). This license allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the work; to adapt the work and to make commercial use of the work providing attribution is made to the author (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).


  • Archaeology
  • Space archaeology
  • Space industry
  • Space exploration
  • artefacts
  • debris


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