Five Facts on the Problem of “Outer Space Junk”

Satellites and other spacecraft are vital to communications, security, economic development, weather tracking, and environmental protection on Earth.  In 1998, the malfunctioning of a single satellite disabled radio and TV networks, pagers, ATMs, and credit card transactions, affecting millions of people in North America.  Learn about the mounting problem of outer space junk or debris with the following five facts from Learning Life.  

Thanks to Learning Life writer, Derrick Costa, for helping to research and write these facts.   


1) 1,000 satellites

There are currently some 1,000 operational satellites orbiting Earth.  These satellites belong to more than forty different countries.

2) 500,000 pieces of space junk

There are more than 500,000 pieces of space junk or debris — man-made debris (e.g., satellites, spacecraft, and pieces from these), and natural meteroids — that NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) and other space agencies track.

3) 17,500 miles per hour

These pieces of space junk all move at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour, which is fast enough for even small pieces to do serious damage.

In 2009, an operational U.S. satellite and a defunct Russian satellite, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds and traveling 17,500 miles per hour, collided, creating almost 700 pieces of debris that could threaten operational satellites and spacecraft for decades.  Thus, the more debris, the more chances for collisions, and the more collisions, the more debris, creating a spiraling problem.

4) 25 sticks of dynamite

A piece of debris the size of just a tennis ball is about as destructive as 25 sticks of dynamite.  Space agencies can more accurately track pieces 4 inches/10 centimeters or larger in diameter, and call on satellites or human-operated spacecraft to engage in evasive maneuvers when they have sufficient notice.  But sometimes they do not have sufficient notice, and even smaller pieces of debris can pose a serious threat as they are harder to track yet can still do serious damage.

5) Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines

In 2008 the United Nations General Assembly adopted these guidelines which call for limiting the number of satellites and other space equipment that are no longer in operation.  These guidelines are voluntary, not mandatory, though.  Nations continue to abandon equipment in outer space after they have completed their missions and ceased operating, which is why some are calling for nations to be required to remove their space junk from outer space.


Sources for the above five facts:

United Nations.  “Space Debris: Orbiting Debris Threatens Sustainable Use of Outer Space.”

National Aeronautics & Space Administration.  “Space Debris and Human SpaceCraft.”

For more information, see also:

European Space Agency.  “Mitigating Space Debris Generation.”



Learning Life’s Progress, 2015 Plans, and How You Can Help

Dear friends of Learning Life,

I founded Learning Life in 2012 to nurture a wider culture of learning by spreading knowledge on everyday life surfaces, like napkins, cup sleeves, even fortune cookies.  In so doing, Learning Life seeks to inform and engage more people by making information that matters to people’s lives – about health, education, work, government services, local nonprofits, etc. – more widely available in everyday life.

Since I founded Learning Life with the help of advisors, volunteers, interns and donors like you, together we have:

Paul Lachelier1) Conducted Three Innovative Pilot Projects

We conducted three innovative projects with Washington D.C.’s Newseum and the City of Alexandria, Virginia using napkins, drink coasters, tote bags, wallet cards and fortune cookies to engage people in learning about local to national history. (You can learn more about these projects here.)

Importantly, these projects recently led to the launch of Learning Life’s partner, Signia Surfaces, to help advance our work using ad-funded surfaces to inform and engage people in their communities, starting in Washington D.C. Stay tuned for more news about Signia Surfaces as it grows!

2) Extended Our Reach Online

On Learning Life’s website, we have grown from less than 2,000 visitors per month on January 1, to more than 4,500 now – a 250%+ increase.

On Facebook, we have increased our connections more than 600% from less than 1,000 individual “likes” on January 1, 2014 to more than 6,000 now.

3) Expanded Our Free Educational Content

Since January 1, 2014, we have raised the number of free quizzes we offer on Learning Life’s website from 39 to 55, with a new quiz posted every month on varied topics from climate change, to American women’s history, to profiles of countries like China, Syria and Mexico.

We have added a new question – “is there intelligent life beyond Earth? – to our Big Questions Series, with succinct and provocative answers from three leading astronomers.

In 2014, we also initiated two new free educational programs:

  1. A “five facts” series on current topics – like Ebola, ISIL (Islamic State in Syria and the Levant), genetic engineering and U.S. immigration.
  2. A free email “Metro D.C. Weekly Learn” that offers interesting facts on the politics, economics, demographics, people and organizations that shape the Washington D.C. metro area.

Our Plans for 2015

In 2015, Learning Life will continue to produce and disseminate quizzes, facts, big questions and other educational content on topics of public importance, from terrorism to food psychology to world geography, absolutely free of charge. We will also continue to expand our audience, and engage in pilot projects when we can to test and improve our innovative approach to incidental learning (you can learn more about our approach here).

In turn, our partner, Signia Surfaces, will work to spread learning on everyday surfaces in metro Washington D.C., starting with ad-funded napkins promoting local nonprofits free in order to inform and engage more residents in their community.

I Like Learning LifeFour Simple Ways You Can Help

Here are four simple ways you can help right now:

1) Like Signia Surfaces’ Facebook page. The page was just launched in mid-November this year, so we’re working to increase the number of people who “like” our page. Please also invite some of your Facebook friends to like us as well. If you’re on Linkedin too, please follow Signia Surfaces on Linkedin.

2) Donate to Learning Life. Signia Surfaces is designed to bring in its own revenue through advertising, but Learning Life relies largely on individual donors. Your donation helps Learning Life produce and spread our free educational content, and pursue creative projects to deepen our impact. If you can donate, please consider becoming a sustainer: sustainers help us develop a more regular base of funding by giving a tax-deductible amount (e.g., $5, $10, $25, $50, $100) monthly that’s automatically deducted from your credit card or checking account.

3) Subscribe to our Metro D.C. Weekly Learn. If you live in the Washington D.C. metro area, subscribe to Learning Life’s Weekly Learn.   It’s a free, local learning opportunity worth spreading, so please also share it with your family, friends and colleagues in the area.

4) Shop through, and help fund Learning Life free. Shop more than 1,400 stores through iGive, and if you make Learning Life your charity, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to Learning Life at no cost to you.

Thank you very much for your support! I will keep you informed about our progress in 2015 via Learning Life’s monthly e-newsletter and Facebook page.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

Intern Spotlight: Shuo Wang

Learning Life intern, Shuo Wang, who goes by Gladys, hails from China, and is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master’s Degree in Information Systems Technology at the George Washington University School of Business. Gladys interned with Learning Life in her fall semester 2014 and quickly proved her skills in web development by carrying out a variety of edits, additions and redesigns to Learning Life’s website.  Her work since has included constructing the website for our partner, Signia Surfaces using WordPress.  Gladys kindly took some time out from her work to answer some questions about herself.

Thanks to Learning Life writer, Craig Gusmann, for drafting Gladys’ profile.


Gladys Shuo WangWhere were you born?  I was born in Jilin Province in northeastern China.

What did you want to be when you were a child?  I wanted to be a singer or an actress.

What are your hobbies?  I like to play musical instruments, especially the violin and “Guqin,” a traditional Chinese wood instrument with seven strings.  I began playing when I was seven years old. I didn’t like it at first, but now I enjoy playing.

Do you have any secret talents?  I prefer to keep it a secret.  🙂

What talents or skills do you wish you had or hope to someday learn?  I would like to develop my skills in tasting and appreciating food and wine.  It would be great if I can make all my favorite dishes myself.

What is your fondest childhood memory?  Going camping with my family. We camped in parks in my hometown and played card games. Our camping trips were not extraordinary, but they are memorable because I was surrounded by the people I love.

What is your dream vacation?  Vacationing in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s home country of Austria.  I fell in love with Mozart’s music when I was 15 years old and still love his music.

What do you want to become in life?

In the immediate future, I would like to find paid work as a web developer in the USA when I graduate in May 2015.  But long-term, I just want to be strong, independent and happy.

Why did you choose to intern with Learning Life?

It is meaningful to work for Learning Life to help spread knowledge to more people. Nothing in life can make people feel more useful and satisfied than helping other people.

Are there any other interesting things about yourself you would like to share?

I am a successful matchmaker.



Five Facts on Global Food Insecurity

Thanks to Learning Life volunteers, Derrick Costa and Erin Birmingham, for assisting with the research and writing of the following five facts.

1) 795 million hungry worldwide

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 795 million people worldwide suffered from hunger and malnutrition in 2015.  That’s a reduction of more than 167 million over the last decade, and more than 216 million since 1990-1992, but still means about 11% of the world’s population goes hungry.

2) Most in Asia and Africa

Most of the world’s undernourished are concentrated in Africa and Asia, which together also contain the majority of the world’s population.  But the percentage of people undernourished varies substantially by region within these two continents, from 41% in Middle Africa to 7% in Central Asia.

Spring basket operation3) Causes

Food insecurity can be caused by various factors, and the causes vary to some extent by nation and region.  Major causes worldwide currently include economic downturns, war and civil war, agricultural mismanagement and lack of investment, and natural disasters due to climate change and other weather patterns.

4) Consequences

Lack of nutritious food leads families to pull their children out of school to work, thus lowering educational levels and undermining economic productivity (education is a key driver of economic productivity).  Malnutrition also contributes to illness among women and children especially, stunts physical and intellectual development, and increases death rates.  Malnutrition causes 45% of all child deaths worldwide.

5) 50% more food by 2050

According to the World Bank, the world needs to produce 50% more food to feed the 9 billion people expected to inhabit the Earth in 2050.  To increase the amount of food available, the World Bank recommends smarter farming methods that take climate change into account, restoring degraded agricultural land, developing more resilient and nutritious crops, and improving transport and storage to reduce food waste.



United Nations.  “Global Food Crisis: More Go Hungry Amid Economic Turmoil.”

UN Food & Agriculture Organization.  “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.

World Bank.  “Food Security Overview.”