On 20 January 1990, NASA’s Space Shuttle returned the so-called Long-Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) to Earth. The LDEF was a large cylindrical satellite holding 57 experiments, all of which were aimed at studying various environmental conditions in near-Earth space. When the LDEF was returned, it was welcomed as a long-awaited treasure trove of valuable data. However, NASA scientists quickly realized that the returned satellite was also riddled with unexpected impacts of tiny anthropogenic objects. Starting from these unexpected impacts, this talk will investigate what the impacts indicated to the NASA scientists, how they related to the consolidating research of space debris, and how they eventually changed the perception of near-Earth space as a distinct environment.
Luca Thanei, Research Assistant at History of Technology at ETH Zurich