Humans are turning space into a cosmic junk yard, space experts are warning.
A Nasa team is currently monitoring 13,000 man-made objects bigger than four inches across.
But there are millions of smaller fragments in orbit – and they pose a hazard to future space missions.
The debris travels at more than 20,000mph – at that speed even a tiny piece could rip a hole in a spacecraft or knock a satellite out of action.
It includes exploded rocket stages, lost hatches and tools, pieces of plastic and an astronaut’s glove.
Nasa expert Nicholas Johnson says: “We have to replace one or two windows on every space shuttle mission because they are hit by small particles, including paint flakes only a fraction of an inch in size.”
The Nasa team, based at Houston, Texas, warn that collisions between the pieces of scrap will make the problem worse. Last year, an old US rocket stage hit part of a Chinese satellite, producing more deadly fragments.
The oldest piece of junk in space is Vanguard 1, the second satellite launched by the US in 1958.
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