There is some hope for saving space: The economists’ first model didn’t account for how the incentives might change as space gets more crowded and the risk of collision higher. But they’re working on a new, dynamic model. The preliminary results, they say, indicate there are situations that decrease the risk that we’ll trash space beyond all use.
It’s safe to assume any fix will be extremely expensive and a tough sell, given how multilateral negotiations on problems of pollution tend to go. But the alternative is losing not just spacewalks, but Google Earth, weather forecasts, satellite TV, intelligence gathering capacity, GPS, and everything else that depends on the huge metal objects currently orbiting the planet.
Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian’s SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.