A look at the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility – the “spacecraft graveyard” for Space X and the Mir space station.
In 1993 space agencies from around the world came to a Star Trek-like global agreement that in order to avoid an excess of orbiting junk, spacecraft that was no longer useful would be disposed of in one of two ways:
1. It would be shot far out into space.
2. Its remaining fuel would be used to return it to Earth.
Now, government sources would tell you that option one is rather temporary and still poses a threat to other spacecraft, which is why returning these craft to earth where much or all of it burns up upon re-entry is preferred.
However, as we all know from countless Sci-Fi movies, not only could we count on seeing that craft again, regardless of how far we shoot it into space, but it’s guaranteed to be piloted by an all-powerful intergalactic villain driven to enslave the Earth. And we all know what a mess that can be.
The Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility (the farthest point from land on the planet) now serves as the world’s spacecraft graveyard. Russia has already laid over 190 pieces to rest, followed by the U.S. with 52. Europe, Japan and even SpaceX have also used this patch in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles north of Antarctica to dispose of unmanned supply ships, satellites and other craft. The water is just under 2.5 miles deep and temperatures range from 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
A few days before a spacecraft’s de-orbit, the agency who owns the spacecraft will notify authorities in Chile and New Zealand, who share responsibility for this remote stretch of ocean. Information about expected re-entry times and debris patterns are provided before the craft begins a controlled plunge. It’s up to these countries to provide a heads-up to merchant ships as to why the sky might appear to be falling.
Perhaps the most famous resident is Mir – the Russian space station that was de-commissioned in 2001. By the time it faced its burial at sea, nearly 120 of its 142 tons had burned off upon re-entry.
The next big splash will be made when the 500-ton, football field long International Space Station is laid to rest in 2028.
I’m Jeff Reinke and this is IEN Now.