New SAT Reading Practice Test 28: Space Debris Passage

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Space Debris Passage

In the first days of space exploration, one
concern was the possibility that astronauts or
spacecraft might be hit by meteoroids. Scientists
calculated that this possibility was extremely small,
05because meteoroids are rare, but that the astronauts
or spacecraft would almost certainly encounter the
more common micrometeorites, which are about
the size of grains of dust and much more common.
However, in the 60 years since the beginning of
10space exploration, large quantities of human-made
orbital debris have accumulated. Much of the
debris consists of satellites that have stopped func-
tioning, or rocket booster sections that separated
from the main spacecraft during a mission. Some of
15the debris consists of items lost by astronauts, such
as tools or space suit parts. Still more of the debris
is the result of collisions, such as when a satellite
collides with another or with a large piece of debris.
NASA estimates there are millions of debris
20particles that are too small to be tracked. These
circle Earth at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour,
making even the smallest particles dangerous. One
scientist calculated that a chip of paint hitting the
window of a spacecraft at orbital speeds will hit
25with the same amount of force as a bowling ball
traveling at 60 mph. Such an impact occurred on
the space shuttle Challenger's second flight, chip-
ping the windows and causing minor damage to the
protective tiles on the spacecraft. While the damage
30was not immediately dangerous, it led to the fear
that any craft in orbit for long periods of time could
accumulate enough damage to cease functioning.
Larger objects are even more dangerous, but
they can be monitored and avoided. NASA tracks
35about 500,000 pieces of debris larger than a marble,
about 20,000 of which are larger than a softball.
When NASA was still flying shuttle missions, it
would often have to direct the shuttle to maneuver
to avoid collisions with the larger debris. This could
40usually be planned and accomplished in a few
hours, but moving the International Space Station
to avoid a collision takes up to 30 hours of advance
Many satellites have the ability to adjust their
45course slightly and can be remotely directed to avoid
collisions with larger objects that would damage or
destroy the satellites. NASA and the European Space
Agency (ESA) have departments of scientists and
engineers dedicated to cataloging, modeling, and
50predicting the movements of space debris.
Some debris falls back to Earth, and most of it
is burned up in the atmosphere. However, a large
piece will survive long enough to get through the
atmosphere and crash. In 1979, the obsolete Skylab
55fell out of orbit, and much of it withstood the trip
through the atmosphere, crashing in the Australian
outback. Space agencies also monitor debris to
predict if any particular piece might fall and when.
Although they can issue warnings, there is currently
60nothing that can be done about pieces that might
get through the atmosphere.
To avoid adding to the aggregation of debris,
future satellites may need to be able to take
themselves out of orbit as their usefulness comes
65to an end. Until a way to remove these remains is
implemented, however, those 500,000 pieces of
large fragments, along with the millions of smaller
pieces, will continue to orbit Earth.

1. The central idea of the passage is primarily concerned with the

  • A. unintended consequences of space exploration.
  • B. composition of the space debris that orbits Earth.
  • C. dangers posed by space debris created by humans.
  • D. causes and consequences of collisions in space.

2. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 3-8 ("Scientists calculated … common")
  • B. Lines 20-22 ("These circle … dangerous")
  • C. Lines 33-34 ("Larger objects … avoided")
  • D. Lines 44-47 ("Many satellites … satellites")

3. Paragraph 2 helps support the central idea of the passage by providing

  • A. an explanation of why space debris left by humans is more dangerous than meteors.
  • B. a summary of problems caused by old satellites and discarded equipment.
  • C. a description of the types of human-made space debris that are causing problems.
  • D. an argument for better tracking of the space debris that is orbiting Earth.

4. According to the passage, why does space debris created by humans pose a greater threat than meteoroids?

  • A. Meteoroids are rare, while there are large quantities of space debris.
  • B. Meteoroids are much smaller than most pieces of space debris.
  • C. Space debris cannot be tracked and monitored, but meteoroids can.
  • D. Space debris is only found in a narrow band around Earth.

5. Which of the following pieces of evidence strengthens the author's line of reasoning?

  • A. An explanation of early concerns about space collisions in paragraph 1
  • B. Information about how space debris is tracked in paragraph 5
  • C. An example of space debris falling to Earth in paragraph 6
  • D. The suggestion that obsolete satellites take themselves out of orbit in paragraph 7

6. As used in line 54, "obsolete" most nearly means

  • A. displaced.
  • B. redundant.
  • C. excessive.
  • D. outdated.

7. Based on information in the passage, which of the following conclusions can be reached?

  • A. The only way to prevent space debris from causing injuries on Earth is to warn people to avoid the predicted impact site.
  • B. The smallest pieces of space debris can be removed by astronauts while they are working in space.
  • C. Most space debris is not dangerous to space travelers because of its small size and relatively low speed.
  • D. Pieces of space debris will become less of a problem as spacecraft travel farther into outer space.

8. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 19-22 ("NASA estimates … dangerous")
  • B. Lines 33-34 ("Larger objects … avoided")
  • C. Lines 34-36 ("NASA tracks … softball")
  • D. Lines 59-61 ("Although … atmosphere")

9. As used in line 66, "implemented" most nearly means

  • A. employed.
  • B. investigated.
  • C. prevented.
  • D. appointed.

10. Based on the passage and the graphic, if NASA were to place a new satellite into orbit, which would be an altitude range to avoid?

  • A. 500-700 kilometers
  • B. 700-900 kilometers
  • C. 1,400-1,600 kilometers
  • D. 1,800-2,000 kilometers