Crew members on the orbiting space laboratory have just survived space junk passing perilously close to their home. The astronauts were told to shelter in the Soyuz spacecraft in order to evacuate if required during the incident dubbed an “avoidance manoeuvre” by NASA.
NASA experts on the ground were able to manoeuvre the ISS away from the potentially catastrophic collision with a piece of space debris yesterday at 10.19pm BST (5.19pm ET).
Manoeuvre Burn complete. The astronauts are coming out of safe haven
NASA head Jim Bridenstine
This was achieved by firing thrusters on a Progress cargo spacecraft.
This capsule is connected to the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module.
Three astronauts live on the ISS at the moment — NASA’s Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The trio were told to shelter in the station’s Russian segment during the procedure so they could be closer to their Soyuz spacecraft in the event of a worst-case scenario.
NASA has now confirmed this manoeuvre was done “out of an abundance of caution”.
A statement by the US-based space agency added: ”At no time was the crew in any danger.”
NASA head Jim Bridenstine tweeted: “Manoeuvre Burn complete. The astronauts are coming out of safe haven.”
Those aboard the ISS event were only required to shelter in the Soyuz for a short time.
Although nobody was harmed in the incident, it highlights growing concerns about the space junk.
Experts estimate there may be as much as 129 million pieces of debris in orbit around Earth at any one time.
The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates more than 30,000 of these are more than 4 inches (1cm) in diameter.
The ISS’s has been in orbit approximately 250 miles (400km) over Earth since its launch in 1998.
Because the laboratory is travelling at almost 17,500mph (28,200kph), a collision with even a mall piece of debris could do major damage.
The two and a half minute evasive action boosted the ISS above the trajectory of the piece of debris.
At its closet, the space junk was within 0.86 miles (1.39km) of the International Space Station, NASA confirmed in a statement.
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This is not the first time such emergency manoeuvres need to the made.
The orbiting space station has made three similar moves this year alone,
This was acknowledged by Mr Bridenstine, who wrote in another tweet, “debris is getting worse!”
The most notorious event occurred in 2012, when NASA scrambled to move the ISS to avoid a potential collision with space debris created by a Chinese anti-satellite test.
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