In a statement released Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "the long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors." Uh oh.
Ensuring the stability, safety, and security of our space systems is of vital interest to the United States and the global community. These systems allow the free flow of information across platforms that open up our global markets, enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, and enable global navigation and transportation.
Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.
Translation: All that Soviet space junk up there is threatening U.S. satellites. And if you thought a day without Wikipedia was bad, you really don't want to experience a day without functioning space-based systems. So let's get together and figure this out. Just one hitch, says State:
the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space
The U.S. isn't too keen on sharing 100 percent of what we know about which objects are where in space, since that list would include—among other things—all of our satellites. Plus, many of the technical solutions that currently exist to deal with the debris problem are basically anti-satellite weapons by another name. Which gets really awkward really quickly in international diplomacy.
So what exactly will happen next is a bit of a mystery, even to space debris nerds like space lawyer Jim Dunstan of the Mobius Legal Group. He wryly notes, "Every international discussion of this that I've seen has many zeros attached to the back end of it. Many of the people who look at this tend to be members of national or international space organizations who can't walk down the street without it costing a billion dollars."
But Dunstan holds out hope for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia nonetheless. "The Russians are far better capitalists than we are.," he says. "If you were to walk up to them and say: Here's a private approach to do this, and not only can we limit your liability for this debris, we might even be able to pay a little bit to do this—they'd listen."
Hey! If you haven't checked it out yet, get your mitts on a copy of Reason's Very Special Space issue. (Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds is calling it "awesomely good.") Meanwhile, Matt Welch will play "Rocket Man" on the guitar and tell you what you're missing in Reason's February edition: