Father of Space Junk, Donald Kessler

Donald Kessler

Dreaming of becoming an astronomer one day, Don Kessler entered NASA’s cooperative education program to study physics. He started out studying natural meteroids, but his attention soon shifted to debris from space launches.

Kessler wondered, “since natural collisions occur in space what will happen with all the man-made material we were putting into space?” That question led him to published his landmark paper, “Collision Frequency of Artificial Satellites,” detailing the science behind what is now unofficially known as the Kessler Syndrome: Space junk collides with other space junk, producing more and more fragments, until the debris eventually renders low Earth orbit impassable.

Based on this work, Don went on to run NASA’s new Orbital Debris Program. Don retired from NASA in 1996 and most recently he chaired the 2011 National Research Council’s committee on Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA's Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs.