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Trash Clutters Up Outer Space

A growing amount of space junk is orbiting Earth, increasing chances that satellites or spacecrafts could be destroyed by the hurtling debris, the European Space Agency warned Wednesday.

There are about 8,000 pieces of trash at least four inches in diameter orbiting Earth, and 150,000 pieces that are at least a half-inch in size, the agency said at an international conference in Darmstadt, Germany.

Because of the great speeds at which they travel, a half-inch piece of space junk could destroy a satellite, while a four-inch chunk could destroy a space shuttle, the agency said.

The space shuttle Discovery, for example, had to make six evasive maneuvers in the past year to avoid hitting garbage, it said.

The probability that the Hubble Space Telescope will be seriously damaged in its 17-year lifespan is one in 25, the ESA said.

The space agency called on countries to take measures to prevent further space trash, like curbing rocket explosions in space, which account for 41 percent of the garbage.

The ESA also renewed its call to create a "space cemetery" for satellites more than 22,370 miles away from the Earth, or to use lasers to destroy the junk.

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