The International Space Station crew was ordered to take cover for a short period of time in an escape vehicle on Thursday as a small piece from an old Russian satellite almost collided with them. The latest brush with space garbage highlights the fact that as more countries send satellites and humans into orbit the amount of debris generated by these activities is becoming a serious concern for those already in orbit.
In Houston, NASA Mission Control officials were able to determine that the space junk would float near the space station at approximately 7:01 AM CT. In order to ensure crew safety, flight engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly were ordered by ISS Commander Gennady Padalka to board a Soyuz escape vehicle.
The crew was instructed to go back to work once the space debris passed by without contact.
Kelly, one of the flight engineers, tweeted about the incident saying, “Happy there was no impact. Great coordination with international ground teams. Excellent training”.
No ISS systems were negatively affected as the NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonauts waited within the Soyuz pod.
As there are an estimated 500,000 pieces of space junk trapped in Earth’s orbit, NASA must weigh the risk-reward scenario when it comes to spending prolonged time in space. Although most pieces are only 2 inches across, the debris ahs to the potential to harm the space station as well as satellites. Moving at a speed of 17,500 mph, the debris can cause damage to all that lies in its path.
NASA said that this incident marks the fourth time the crew of the space station had to move to the Soyuz in order to avoid a possible collision with space junk.
In the spirit of Shark Week, after the incident, Van Cise made a suggestion in reference to Austin Powers tweeting, “We need to launch a #SpaceSharknado where sharks have freakin' laser beams on their heads #pewpewpew,”
Both Kornienko and Kelly are on a yearlong deployment in the space station to help anticipate some issues with sending a human mission to Mars. Interestingly, Kelly, along with his twin brother Mark Kelly who is a former astronaut who last flew aboard the Endeavour Space Shuttle, is a part of twin experiment.
The space station is scheduled to receive three new crewmembers on July 22 from Japan, Russia and the US.