Flash Forward: The Space Roomba

There are currently millions of pieces of trash orbiting Earth, everything from defunct satellites all the way down to tiny flecks of paint.

Each of those millions of pieces of debris is traveling 17,500 miles per hour as it hurtles through space. At those speeds, a collision with an active satellite or spacecraft can cause serious damage. And experts think that if humans don’t do something about all the junk up there pretty soon, low Earth Orbit could become unusable.

This episode we take on a future where space junk has gotten so bad, that active spacecraft are constantly having to maneuver around it, which wastes fuel and cuts down on operation time. And humans decide to finally do something about it. But what?


  • Loren Grush, science reporter at The Verge
  • Lisa Ruth Rand, historian of science technology and the environment.
  • Tiago Soares, systems engineer for ESA’s Clean Space program
  • Andrew Wolahan, systems engineer for ESA’s e.deorbit program
  • Alice Gorman, space archaeologist at Flinders University
  • Jill Stuart, space policy & law expert at the London School of Economics

Further Reading:

Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Hussalonia. The space dispatcher from the top of the episode was played by Andrew Hackard. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky.

If you want to suggest a future we should take on, send us a note on TwitterFacebook or by email at info@flashforwardpod.com. We love hearing your ideas! And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool.

And if you want to support the show, there are a few ways you can do that too! Head to www.flashforwardpod.com/support for more about how to give. But if that’s not in the cards for you, you can head to iTunes and leave us a nice review or just tell your friends about us. Those things really do help.

That’s all for this future, come back next time and we’ll travel to a new one.




Flash Forward is a critically acclaimed podcast about the future.

In each episode, host Rose Eveleth takes on a possible (or not so possible) future scenario — everything from the existence of artificial wombs, to what would happen if space pirates dragged a second moon to Earth. What would the warranty on a sex robot look like? How would diplomacy work if we couldn’t lie? Could there ever be a black market for fecal transplants? (Complicated, it wouldn’t, and yes, respectively, in case you’re curious.) By combining audio drama and deep reporting, Flash Forward gives listeners an original and unique window into the future, how likely different scenarios might be, and how to prepare for what might come.

Astronomy, International Space Station & Research in Space, Pollution
High School

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