November 6, 2008

Ammonia from heaven

AN OMINOUS little news report from Associated Press says that “a refrigerator-sized piece of space junk fell harmlessly into the South Pacific Sunday night.

“The junk was a tank full of ammonia coolant on the international space station that was no longer needed. Astronaut Clayton Anderson threw it overboard during a spacewalk in July 2007.”

Say what? He threw a huge tank of ammonia in the sea? Harmlessly?

Good grief, if I even pee in the sea the Coast Guard will come and get me. Are they going to arrest Anderson? I bet not. These NASA people think they’re above the law, immune to prosecution. They’re in cahoots with the Coast Guard.

By federal law, I have to carry a little placard on my sailboat that says I’m not allowed to throw all kinds of things overboard. There are so many things that I’ve never read to the end of the list, but I bet tanks full of ammonia coolant are there. So how does NASA get away with it?

And another thing – how do they know it landed harmlessly? How do they know it didn’t land on a whale, or, worse yet, on an innocent sailboat minding its own business with nobody even thinking of watching out for a flying fridge full of ammonia aproaching at 760 miles an hour?

If my boat were hit by a speeding, red-hot piece of space junk that big and that toxic there’d be nothing left of it. Nobody would know I had been wiped out for ever, gargling bravely in boiling ammonia and cursing that litter-lout Clayton Anderson. Why do we let these people get away with it?

It’s not as as if this were an isolated incident, either. It happens all the time. NASA is out of control. I can still remember that huge SpaceLab wobbling around in low orbit before it eventually fell on Australia, providentially doing nothing worse than scaring a couple of kangaroos in the desert. NASA sent it into space knowing full well they wouldn’t be able to control where it landed. It could have wiped out a large passenger liner, never mind a small sailboat.

The open ocean is becoming an uncreasingly unsafe place for amateur sailors. Already the seas are full of mile-long fishing nets left unattended for an unwary sailboat to get tangled up in. There are weather buoys and oil derricks and huge steel containers washed off the decks of ships, partially afloat and almost invisible even in daylight.

What all this amounts to is a lack of accountabliity and responsibility. Any ship that loses a container should have to recover it before it can do any harm. NASA shouldn’t be allowed to dump its space junk with a cavalier disregard for lives and property.

Next time I’m boarded by the Coast Guard I shall mention all this to them while they inspect my holding tank to see if I’ve pumped any poop overboard.

“Poop,” I shall say indignantly, “poop, indeed! What if I told you I work for NASA and am pre-cleared to shove a whole tank of boiling ammonia overboard?”

That’ll show them. And I shall rip up my little placard in their faces as they slink back to their cutter.

* * *

To leave a comment, go to Blog Archives at right and click on “Ammonia from heaven”
* * *

No comments: