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A cargo ship nearly as long as the Empire State Building blocking the Suez Canal.
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Satellite photo courtesy of Maxar Technologies

A cargo ship nearly as long as the Empire State Building that blocked traffic in the Suez Canal for almost a week has been freed.

The Ever Given is a 1,300-foot, 220,000-ton container ship that is among the largest container ships currently in operation. It is roughly twice as long as the Suez Canal is wide.

The Ever Given got stuck in the canal on March 23. While the ship was stuck for nearly one week, more than 360 vessels lined up behind the Ever Given while others opted to divert their journeys. Those waiting to pass through the canal included container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and other vessels. The traffic jam slowed trade in parts of the world and cost billions of dollars!

An investigation is ongoing about how the ship got stuck in the canal. The ship’s owners said high winds in a sandstorm were to blame, but officials investigating the INCIDENT have speculated that the ship may have been grounded by technical or human errors.

Fortunately for everyone involved, some hard work and ingenuity freed the Ever Given and prevented the blockage from dragging on for several weeks as many people initially thought it might. The salvage crews relied on tugboats to push along one side of the ship, large-capacity dredgers, and high tides to get the Ever Given moving again. Crews removed 30,000 cubic meters of sand as part of the rescue effort. That’s enough sand to fill about one dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The Suez Canal was completed in 1869, and it has been a significant route for trade since then. Roughly 19,000 ships use the canal each year, and it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. This connection allows for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Without the Suez Canal, ships have to traverse the entire continent of Africa. This significantly drives up the time it takes for ships to move goods and increases the cost.

Satellite Hunter to Clean Up Space Junk

Illustration of satellite, floating in space.Have you ever thought about what happens to all of the objects humans launch into space?

Fortunately, scientists do think about problems like this and are working on a solution.

Last month, a demonstration mission to test an idea about how to clean up space debris launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The mission, known as ELSA-d, employs a “servicer satellite” and a “client satellite.” According to Astroscale, the Japan-based company behind the mission, the two satellites launched together and will use magnetic docking technology. The servicer satellite will release and try to join with the client satellite, which will act as a mock piece of space junk. The technology is meant to attach itself to dead satellites and push them toward Earth so they burn up in the atmosphere rather than floating around as debris.

The mission’s goal is to demonstrate the servicer satellite’s ability to track and dock with the client satellite, and the process will be repeated over the next six months with varying levels of complexity. If successful, future satellites could be launched with compatible docking plates on them to employ the technology.

While it may not be a problem we often think about, space junk is a growing problem. According to NASA, the first human-made object to enter space was a rocket that launched in 1949. In 1957, the Soviets launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into space. The United States responded four months later with Explorer 1.

Since then, approximately 2,500 satellites have been launched into space. There are millions of pieces of space junk, including everything from defunct satellites and nuts and bolts left behind by astronauts to flecks of paint and bits of plastic.

In space, litter has the potential to be extremely harmful because the debris threatens the loss of services we rely on in everyday life, including weather forecasting, telecommunications, and GPS systems. According to a recent report by NASA, there are at least 26,000 pieces of space junk the size of a softball that could “destroy a satellite on impact” because of the speed at which they orbit.

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
April 2021