Here’s a new phrase to add to your lexicon: “situational awareness.” Situational awareness means being aware of the terrain — something I could use whenever I open my sock drawer. The term takes on a new meaning when we’re discussing outer space, which, believe it or not, is getting a little crowded. As usual, we have technology to thank for all that gunk floating in the stratosphere.
In the good old days, there wasn’t much junk in the sky because it cost a pretty penny to launch a satellite. Initially, there were 3 governments with the capability: China, Russia and the US. With so few in the game, it was easy to keep an inventory of space junk and the rules were simple. The parties agreed to: keep space open for exploration; be responsible for activities conducted within their borders; assume liability for damage done to the craft of another country when liable, and provide mutual assistance in space. (“The Democratization of Space,” by Dave Baiocchi and William Welser IV, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2015 pgs. 100-101.)
Traditionally, “the United States has served as the de facto keeper of a global catalog,” (Ibid pg. 102) But, thanks to advances in technology, like 3 D printing, which can produce satellite parts cheaply, even small countries, like Ghana, are now represented in space, as are a host of billionaires who have launched commercial satellites. Knowing what’s in space, including debris, is becoming harder to track and could jeopardize future space programs. A centralized system of situational awareness for dealing with what’s flying over our heads is essential, particularly as some satellites have duo purposes, serving the objectives of war as well as peaceful research. (Ibid pg. 102)
Maybe what we need to manage the space inventory is a squad of women, like the Bletchley Park decoders in World War II. Preferably they’d be mothers of triplets who’d know how to keep track of moving objects. A squad like that might even manage my sock drawer.