Since the Plesetsk Space Center began operations in northern Russia forty years ago, tons of man-made debris - first stages of rockets mainly - have fallen to earth, generating both a cash opportunity for local villagers, and a source of danger, RIA Novosti recently reported.
Some villages survive only on this cosmic garbage, unable to find other ways to make ends meet.
The neighboring space center outlines the regions that have the highest risk of being exposed to space debris several days before every launch. Hunters, mushroom pickers, fishermen and reindeer breeders are all emphatically warned of the dangers of being in the area.
They do leave, but afterwards scores of local residents, some equipped with tractors, get into the area to reap little-damaged Soyuz first stages.
Soyuz carrier rockets are propelled by kerosene and oxygen, and their parts have a reputation for safety.
Older Tsiklon and Rokot carriers propelled by poisonous heptyl leave scraps that people avoid for a few years, until "self-cleaning" (as locals have coined the process) makes it safe for people to extract the metals.
Scrap metal collectors generally will not comment on how much they collect in a year but fragmented data for 2003 alone indicated that about 20 tons of "space metals" was collected.
Lesser-damaged parts are used in households: electric batteries are connected to lamps, metal sheets made of stainless alloys are used to build basements, garages, fences, water tracks and long, slim boats, much like canoes.
The Northern Medical University has studied the effect of liquid propellant components on human health - particularly where heptyl was used - and have warned that the death rate in mentioned affected areas has risen by 30%, mostly due to liver, blood and genetic diseases.
However, it has so far failed to draw a direct link from the launches to the deaths. Experts say additional studies are necessary to come to any definite conclusions.
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Space Debris Mitigation: The Case For A Code Of Conduct
Darmstadt, Germany (ESA) Apr 18, 2005
There is a lot of junk orbiting the Earth and the problem will worsen unless there are changes in how spacecraft operators operate. But it is not all doom and gloom.
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