Teams are working around the clock to catalog and then track the debris from the satellites' collision Wednesday. When the junk settles, Johnson said, analysts will have a better idea what spacecraft might be threatened, and then they will take measures to move those spacecraft into different orbits.
The satellite crash was unprecedented -- and the largest orbital collision yet -- but it wasn't exactly unexpected.
"We knew this was going to happen eventually and this is it -- this was the big one," said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist at the Orbital Debris Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
What are the odds of such a collision occurring?
Pretty good, Johnson said. His office has tracked accidental collisions at the rate of one every five years.
Next week, the United Nations is holding its annual conference on orbital debris. Johnson said he will have quite the show-and-tell for his colleagues in Vienna, Austria.