I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus
with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. This week, we tell about a growing
threat to airplanes around the world. And we hear about objects in space that are threatening satellites and
the International Space Station.
On January fifteenth, US Airways flight fifteen forty-nine
was leaving La Guardia airport near New York City. Everything seemed normal and the weather was
good that day. But as the passenger jet
climbed to about nine hundred meters in the air, something happened.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger reported
that both of his plane’s engines had struck birds. The engines soon lost all power. The plane was unable to return to the airport.
So Captain Sullenberger made a quick decision to land the plane on the freezing
water of the nearby Hudson River. The
emergency landing was performed perfectly.
Captain Sullenberger’s actions saved the lives of one
hundred fifty-five passengers and crew.But the incident brought attention to a real and growing threat to air
strikes happen all over the world. And
they are not rare. Bird Strike Committee
USA gathers information about such incidents in the United States and around
the world. The group is a volunteer
committee. It includes members from the
Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Agriculture, Defense Department
and the aviation industry.
Bird Strike Committee USA says bird strikes cause about
six hundred million dollars in damage to American civilian and military
aviation each year. The group says
fifty-six thousand incidents were reported to the F.A.A. between nineteen
ninety and two thousand four. More than seven thousand six hundred bird and
other wildlife strikes were reported for civilian aircraft in two thousand
But studies show only about twenty
percent of bird strikes to civilian aircraft are reported. These incidents can
be deadly. The organization says
wildlife strikes have led to the deaths of two hundred nineteen people around
the world since nineteen eighty-eight.
the United States, aviation officials have taken measures to reduce the risk
from bird strikes and dangers from other wildlife since the nineteen sixties.
Federal Aviation Administration rules require airports
to study the risks of wildlife to safe airport operations. These studies must consider wildlife activity
up to about three thousand meters above an airport and eight kilometers around
it. They also must provide detailed
information about nearby water and environmental issues that could cause
wildlife to gather near an airport.
O’Donnell is director of the F.A.A. Office of Airport Safety and
Standards. He says there are about five
hundred sixty commercial service airports in the United States. Not all airports need wildlife control plans. But the ones that do work closely with
government agencies.The Department of
Agriculture, for example, provides biologists to help study wildlife that could
be a danger to air travel.
number of reported bird strikes has increased since nineteen ninety. One reason is that there are more birds. Protected species have reproduced in huge
numbers. For example, permanent
populations of Canada geese in North America have increased three hundred
percent in eighteen years to four million birds.
birds have spread quickly across areas with heavy air traffic. The European starling was released for the
first time in the United States over one hundred years ago. Today, there are more than one hundred fifty million
of these birds. They are called
“feathered bullets” because of their high body density.
Another reason for the increase in bird strikes is the
growing popularity of air travel in the United States. Since nineteen eighty, flights have increased
by about two percent each year. In two
thousand seven, the number reached twenty-eight million.
Airports have used many different methods to reduce the
number of birds and other wildlife nearby. These include lasers, noise makers and, when necessary, killing problem
F.A.A. is also seeking ways to help planes avoid birds. Since the emergency landing of flight fifteen
forty-nine, special radars have received a lot of attention. The air travel
agency is currently testing a radar system at the international airport in
Seattle, Washington. The F.A.A. plans to
test new radar systems at airports in Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; and New
Michael O’Donnell says the F.A.A. is spending between
seven hundred fifty thousand and one million dollars a year on radar research.
The United States space agency already uses an Aircraft
Birdstrike Avoidance Radar at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The radar is built by the company DeTect of
Panama City, Florida. It was put in
place to help protect the space shuttle from bird strike damage. And the Air Force currently uses radar
developed by DeTect at several bases.
also has a part in the growing threat from birds. Today’s large passenger planes have fewer but
more powerful engines than older models. That means it is easier for planes with only two engines to strike a
flock of birds and lose power in both engines.
Michael O’Donnell says the number of serious bird strike incidents has remained
at or below two hundred each year. He
credits this to better education and knowledge about the issue.
From bird strikes, we turn to another kind of threat
caused by objects in space. The number
of man-made objects in Earth orbit has been growing each year. These include satellites, old rocket parts
and other pieces of spacecraft.
Nicholas Johnson is chief scientist for orbital debris for
the United States space agency. He says
there are more than three hundred thousand small objects or pieces of debris in
orbit that are larger than one centimeter. Any one of these could cause damage to a spacecraft. This is because orbital debris travels at
speeds of thirty-two thousand kilometers an hour or more. Even a very small object can be a major
Space debris made news on March twelfth when a part of
an old rocket motor about ten centimeters in size threatened the International
Space Station. NASA warned the three
astronauts inside about one hour before the object was to reach the area of the
Americans Mike Fincke and Sandra
Magnus and Russian Yury Lonchakov quickly moved into the Soyuz emergency escape
vehicle as a safety measure. They spent
eleven tense minutes in the capsule.
is unclear how close the object came to the station. But the piece was big enough to have caused
severe damage. On March twenty-second, NASA again ordered the astronauts on the
linked space station and shuttle Discovery to move out of the way of another
piece of debris from a rocket.
space station has been hit in the past by very small debris. But these strikes caused little damage, mostly
to the station’s solar energy collectors.
more costly incident took place on February tenth. An old Russian military
satellite and a United States communications satellite crashed into each other eight
hundred kilometers above Siberia in Russia.
had launched the Kosmos satellite in nineteen ninety-three. But it had not
operated for ten years. It was one of
hundreds of inactive satellites that remain in orbit.
The American Iridium thirty-three satellite
was used for telephone communications. It
was owned by Iridium Satellite, a company based in Bethesda, Maryland. The company said the loss caused little
interference with its service at the time. Before the collision, Iridium had a group of sixty-six satellites in orbit.
The United States Space Surveillance Network is closely
studying the collision involving the Russian satellite. The agency is part of United States Central
Command. It follows over eighteen
thousand pieces of debris as small as the size of a baseball.
collision of the Russian and American satellites was the first of its kind in
over fifty years of space travel. It
spread hundreds of pieces of debris.
But the biggest debris-causing event took place in January,
two thousand seven. China tested an
anti-satellite missile by destroying one of its weather satellites. The test broke the satellite apart into at
least two thousand eight hundred identifiable pieces. The debris now circles the Earth in orbits
from two hundred kilometers to over three thousand eight hundred kilometers.
there is no treaty to control the spread of space debris. Scientists have proposed many ideas for
cleaning up space. They include nets,
giant collecting arms and powerful laser beams that would move or destroy space
junk. But for now, these are just
ideas. And, as more nations launch
spacecraft, the risk of debris strikes will only grow.
program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Steve Ember.Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special