Monday, March 31, 2008

Space Trash - Parts 1 And 2

[A special tip of the "After Midnight" baseball cap (which may be available by the end of this year; if you're interested reply in the "Comments" section) to the fabulous crew at Reuters News Agency, whose juxtaposition of two similarly-themed item jogged Your Host's brain cells into action]
There was, if my memory serves me right, a TV series [or maybe just a pilot, although I seem to remember more than one episode] about a company that basically existed to gather abandoned parts of spacecraft and satellites from outer space [The big thing that made it memorable was that the producers somehow convinced Andy Griffith that the project was worthy of his time [At any rate, it didn't take up much of it; it was cancelled after (I think) a few showings]. More's the pity ["more's the pity"? what the Hell kind of phrase is that to drop into one of these Reports From The Squalid Heart Of The Internet? I must be shooting for one of those "blog awards" you hear so much about...] that the show, and of course, the company depicted, were nothing more than fiction. They could have picked up some salvage dollars grabbing two items out of space, before they landed on Earth, forcing innocent reporters out of bed to report on them, and not-so-innocent bloggers like myself to trash the trash.
-Case # 1/ A Russian shepherd is suing that nation's space agency for one million roubles [Barney Roubles?], or about 42 thousand US dollars. He claims a 10-foot casing, fresh from a Russian launch, dropped on his land, nearly taking out an outdoor toilet in the process. The shepherd's sister, who seems to be his media rep, notes that her brother has vision problems, so he didn't see the metal fall. But when he got up the following morning, she said he realized that his biffy nearly went the Way Of All Flesh [or outdoor outhouses struck by quickly-moving hunks of space junk]. The sister says the amount of the suit comes down to the great amount of stress he suffered [I could go along with that; if a hunk of metal nearly crushed my outhouse, I don't know what I'd do. Could I ever go back? I'm not sure].
Of course, I must note that the region where the incident occurred is sort of a dumping zone for Russian space craft. Residents of nearby villages say they are forbidden to visit certain places in their village during space launches, and that pieces of rockets regularly end up crashed there. A spokesperson for the Russian Space Agency notes that it does pay compensation, but only if the Russian courts award damages [according to a prominent Russian newspaper, that's happened only once since the end of communism - a 2001 case where the unfortunate property owner received 10 thousand roubles [Amount in US dollars unknown - but it can't be much, since it takes a million roubles to get to 40 thousand US dollars]. And considering the speed at which the Russian courts are said to turn - very slowly - the shepherd might be better off selling the space leftover to a collector or for scrap. He'd see the money sooner, that's for sure.
-Case # 2/Another region famous as a space junkyard is Australia, most famously in 1979, when the Skylab spacecraft returned to Earth. A town council near a crash site ticketed the US for "littering" [I see their point], and then-US President Jimmy Carter apologized to the island nation for the crash. Another piece of flotsam from the stars landed in Australia's Northern Outback [no, NOT a restaurant] recently, and its discoverer seems much more sanguine over the matter. It took him almost a week after finding it to begin inquiries, and he hasn't expressed, at least in public, any interest in lawsuits. Then again, it didn't come within an eyelash of crushing his biffy.