It was a close call Thursday morning.

A tiny chunk of space junk just about wrecked the day for two astronauts and a cosmonaut in the international space station. In space, size doesn't matter as much as speed. The debris, a chunk of a payload engine that cartwheeled into space after two satellites collided Feb. 10, zoomed through the stratosphere at about 20,000 mph.

The astronauts took shelter in a Russian Soyuz escape capsule about nine minutes before the junk whizzed by. A direct hit could have meant loss of air pressure and worse.

The U.S. monitors almost 14,000 orbiting objects. Some are working satellites, but the remainder is litter, 4 inches or bigger. Last year, China alarmed the space community when it destroyed a non-working satellite and created 2,500 new pieces of space trash.

As alarm mounts, so have the ideas of how to combat the interstellar garbage - everything from the rocket version of a garbage truck to a trash-zapping laser and a plan to drive pieces of space trash lower in the atmosphere with water until the objects burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Does anyone find it a bit depressing that man's messiness has affected the Final Frontier?

About a decade ago, a consortium of nations agreed to reduce the production of space trash and the United Nations adopted the guidelines. The guidelines, however, are purely voluntary. The United Nations would show foresight if it puts some muscle into the directive, making it mandatory. Let's keep deep space from becoming an extension of our earthly landfills.

- Kathy Aney

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