Wanted: Space junkmen. Apply today
Jobs are on everyone's minds these days, especially after this gloomy bit of news Friday:
The U.S. economy added no new jobs in August -- the worst showing in a year -- as employers cut back hiring and trimmed work hours of existing employees.
Now, ordinarily I wouldn't pitch "picking up trash" as a big jobs generator, even though humans -– and Americans in particular -– are especially adept at creating messes.
But these aren't ordinary times.
So I think maybe we can kill two birds with one stone with a "jobs for junk" program. And not just any junk. Space junk.
Space junk has made such a mess of Earth's orbit that experts say we may need to think seriously about cleaning it up.
That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology -- cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a report on the problem Thursday.
There are 22,000 objects in orbit that are big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.
We know the problem. We don't have a solution yet. But how many good jobs could we create coming up with one?
Of course, there would be a bit of a public relations hurdle for President Obama. It's not as glorious a challenge as JFK's "I believe this nation should commit itself, to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
What would Obama say? "I believe this nation should commit itself, to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of being the Fred Sanford of low-Earth orbit."
But that's why he has highly paid speechwriters. Me, I'm just an ideas guy.
Besides, it's not as if this administration has been "the little jobs engine that could." Beggars can't be choosers.
NASA needs a mission. And there are private companies itching to get into space. You think Richard Branson wants to fly all those tourists into space, only to have them look at the equivalent of Cousin Bubba's front yard in Waxahachie?
So let's fire up those imaginations, JPL scientists. Get going, Boeing. Paging Burt Rutan.
Who knows, someday we humans may have polluted this planet so badly that we'll need to leave.
It would be the ultimate irony that we'd put so much junk into space that we couldn't even abandon Earth.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: An artist's impression, based on data collected, of a debris field that extends to about 1,200 miles above Earth's surface. Credit: European Space Agency / AFP/Getty Images