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DIRECTIONS for questions: The passage given below is accompanied by a set of six questions. Choose the best answer to each question.
The Outer Space Treaty – written in 1967 and signed by all the major world powers – is the closest thing we have to a constitution for space. For a document conceived before the moon landing, it’s remarkably forward-looking: it declares “celestial bodies” like the moon and asteroids off-limits for private development and requires countries authorize and continually supervise companies’ activities in space. It also says that space exploration should be carried out for the benefit of all peoples.
But even with that impressive scope of vision, the treaty’s authors could never have imagined where we’d be now. Currently there are 1,738 man-made satellites in orbit around our planet. As they become more affordable to build and launch, they’ll no doubt proliferate and vie for valuable real estate there with space stations, space tourists, space colonists, space miners, military spacecraft, and thousands of derelict satellites and other immobile debris.
So far no one has any idea how to deal with the scientific and engineering challenges – let alone the political, legal, and business ones – involved in sustainably managing orbital debris and mining celestial objects. That’s why Aaron Boley and at least six other space scientists, policy experts, and legal scholars are putting together the world’s first Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space – essentially a space-focused think tank. The experts aim to find long-term solutions so that future generations of space explorers can continue where today’s leaves off.
With their focus on sustainable development, Boley and his team come across as a band of space environmentalists who want to treat space like a global common, something that can be used but also must be protected, so that today’s space activities don’t compromise future ones. Earthly analogues include conflicts over forests or oceans, where people or even nations on their own might think they’re having a minimal impact – but their combined extractions of resources or pollution result in overfished or threatened species. Sustainably-fished species can survive indefinitely, while some practices, like fish trawling or proposed seafloor mining, could cause more lasting damage.
Space activities that threaten to fill up low Earth orbit could be similarly scrutinized. Boley and his colleagues believe that orbital debris is the most pressing and formidable problem facing space development today. It will only worsen as we witness the commercialization of low Earth orbit in the next decade or two, they say. If one day a collision begets another and another, it could produce an impenetrable ring of debris that effectively prevents future space activities for everyone else. Until unproven technologies for vacuuming, netting, or harpooning debris become viable, temporary solutions are needed.
Currently each satellite has to have its own debris mitigation plan, which usually means falling back to Earth within 25 years or boosting up higher into a “graveyard orbit” (where there’s still a risk of collision, albeit a much smaller one).
Constant monitoring of so many objects seems a daunting task, with swarms of small satellites now more affordable to send up into space than their larger, traditional counterparts.
For example, at any one time, San Francisco-based Planet Labs, a private Earth imaging company, has some 200 orbiting satellites between the size of a shoe box and a washing machine. They generally fly at altitudes of 500 kilometres, which is below the densest regions and makes it easier for the satellites’ orbits to naturally decay over a few years’ time, upon which they fall and burn up in re-entry.
But what if not everyone acts in everyone’s best interest? No one has taken responsibility for a plethora of unidentified and unmaneuverable debris already polluting the atmosphere. There’s no overarching authority. What we can do is get together around a table.
Q. Which of the following is the main theme of the passage?
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