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“Shields to Maximum, Mr. Scott”

We know it’s out there, debris from 50 years of space exploration – aluminum, steel, nylon, even liquid sodium from Russian satellites – orbiting around the Earth and posing a danger to manned and unmanned spacecraft.

According to NASA, there are more than 21,000 pieces of ???space junk’ roughly the size of a baseball (larger than 10 centimeters) in orbit, and about 500,000 pieces that are golf ball-sized (between one to 10 centimeters).

Sure, space is big, but when a piece of space junk strikes a spacecraft, the collision occurs at a velocity of 5 to 15 kilometers per second???roughly ten times faster than a speeding bullet!

Eric Fahrenthold, a researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, uses Linux-based supercomputers to develop ballistic limit curves that predict whether a space craft will be perforated when hit by a projectile of a given size and speed, and to study the impact of projectiles on body armor materials.