When What Goes Up Doesn't Come Down: Space Junk

Feb 20, 2018

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made history in February when his Falcon Heavy rocket launched a red Tesla convertible into outer space. In the driver seat is a dummy astronaut dubbed “Starman” who’s now flying through space, orbiting the sun.

The successful launch of Falcon Heavy is an important milestone in Space quest to open access to space. But is this symbolic car now...space junk?   

This hour, as more and more companies send things up into space, from satellites to cameras to even sportscars, what happens to the debris left behind?

We’ll talk with the head engineer of UTC’s Space Systems about how space debris shapes the way they design technology headed outside our atmosphere.

And—as we look towards the future of humans traveling to Mars, what about the stuff we’ll leave on the planet—not just the trash, but also the microbes?

We’ll ask NASA’s former Planetary Protection Officer: Should we be worried about interplanetary contamination?

An animation by NASA of human-made objects orbiting the Earth


  • Marina Koren - Science reporter at The Atlantic
  • Dr. Lisa Ruth Rand - Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a historian of science, technology, and the environment
  • Gary Adamson - Principal Engineer, Space Systems, UTC Aerospace Systems
  • Dr. John Rummel - Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute; former Planetary Protection Officer for NASA and former Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA

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Chion Wolf contributed to this show.