On clear winter nights, when the trees are bare, Donald Kessler likes to set up a small telescope on the back deck of his house in Asheville, North Carolina, and zoom in on the stars shining over the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's not the most advanced home observatory, but the retired NASA scientist treasures his Celestron telescope, which was made in 1978. That also happens to be the year Kessler published the paper that made his reputation in aerospace circles. Assigned to the Environmental Effects Project Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the astrophysicist had gotten interested in the junk that humans were abandoning in the wild black yonder—everything from nuts and tools to defunct satellites and rocket stages the size of school buses.
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