Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Where do spacecraft go when they die?

To the spacecraft cemetery where else? 

About 3,900 km from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is a 4 km deep, desolate section of the South Pacific, where the remains of spacecraft that do not burn up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, (such as the carcass of the Russian Mir space station and waste-filled Progress cargo ships) lie on the ocean floor. 

Spaceship Cemetery Location in the South Pacific. Image -
This remote final resting place location was specially selected for the disposal of spacecraft because of its depth of four km and distance from shipping lanes.

The disposal of spacecraft does little harm to the environment as most of the remains are burnt up before they penetrate the planet’s atmosphere, we learnt.

So what all is buried there?

Here is an infographic we put together to give you an idea of the space returned hardware finally resting in this unreal sounding place;

The Spacecraft Cemetery: Whats buried? An infographic.
Apart from the Mir Space Station and numerous Progress Cargo Ships, other spacecraft that routinely use the South Pacific re-entry location include several other unmanned resupply spacecraft to the ISS: the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, and the European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). 

We looked up at the stars this evening and wondered whether the space boffins picked this area and hit it repeatedly on purpose?

Or, were they just aiming for the Pacific Ocean, and then, in a brazen act of Texas turkey-shooting, (the boastful sport where you fire a shotgun at the barn, then simply walk up and draw the target around where the bullets hit) declared that the South Pacific area they happened to hit had been the target all along?

Haha. Who cares. Spacecraft Cemetery deserves the IREFD Unreal Estate #3 crown anyway. :)


Psst: One of the most exciting things about this is the four km depth of this cemetery zone. It's fantastic to consider the possibility of these spaceship carcasses piled on top of each other to form strange towers and haphazard super structures on the sea floor. Big time tourist attraction in a hundred years from now, we reckon.


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