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The Sciences

Numbers: The Swiss Are Clean, Even in Space

By Amy BarthJune 4, 2012 5:00 AM

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2: The number of space-junk satellites the Swiss government feels compelled to clean up. In February the Swiss Space Center announced it is developing an $11 million janitorial probe called CleanSpace One to safely take down its two grapefruit-size satellites. The United States has thrown hundreds of satellites into space, resulting in over 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting Earth at over 17,000 miles per hour, and has cleaned up nothing. Removing two satellites isn’t much, but would “demonstrate it can be done,” says astrophysicist Donald Kessler, who has been trying to get us to clean up since the 1970s, when he proposed that accumulating orbital trash could cause dangerous collisions. Kessler sees another benefit to Swiss intervention: For security reasons, no country can clean up another’s satellite without permission. Neutral Switzerland could provide a cleaning service for hire. Kessler finds the distinctively Swiss proclivity to clean up after themselves amusing and satisfying.

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