NASA: Skylab astronauts run around space station in 1973
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Moscow blew up one of their own satellites in a test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon. It forced seven astronauts on the ISS to take cover in their spaceships for their own safety after reports that space debris were heading their way. Now, Washington has reacted with fury. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement following the incident: “Due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety.
“Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilising action.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had earlier called the move “dangerous and irresponsible”.
It comes after the US State Department promised “the US will respond,” which has sent fears of a space war soaring.
But not only were American astronauts put in danger, but Russia bizarrely put their own astronauts at risk as two of them had to flee for cover in their spaceship.
Mr Nelson said: “With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS but also their own cosmonauts.
“Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.
“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.”
“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”
There are now reports that the debris created from Russia’s weapons test will cause major disruption to space activity for years to come, which has enraged US officials.
Space command chief US Army General James Dickinson said: “Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations.”
He added that the build-up of space debris from the broken satellite will “continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance manoeuvres.”
This also comes after tension back down on Earth between Russia and the US has been heating up.
Last week, Washington briefed NATO members about the imminence of a Russian invasion of Ukraine after reports that nearly 100,000 troops descended on the Russia-Ukraine border.
There had already been months of tension boiling up between NATO and Russia over Crimea, the small which Russia annexed in 2014.
And some suspect that the incident in space is not unrelated to the conflict with Ukraine.
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While Ukraine is not officially part of NATO, the US and its allies have been quick to express their opposition to Russia’s military aggression in the region.
For instance, Donald Trump’s administration provided Ukraine’s military with lethal aid to help it defend itself from the Russian invasion.
Now with the outbreak of a potential conflict in space, some believe it is being used as a distraction by Russia to help it achieve its geopolitical aims on the ground.
Brandon J Weichert, the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, wrote in an opinion piece for Asia Times: “Russia is threatening space war with US.”
He added: “Moscow has likely initiated plans to neuter any potential threat of a NATO defence of Ukraine against any Russian invasion by going after sensitive American and NATO satellites.
“The surprise Russian demonstration in orbit was probably an example of radical deterrence.
“Moscow is letting Washington, Brussels and London know just how far it is willing to go to achieve its strategic objectives in what it views as it’s ‘near abroad’ (in this case, Ukraine).”
There is now reportedly a debris cloud that the space station is passing through or near every 90 minutes.
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the build-up of space debris is becoming a real concern.
He told The Guardian: “There’s a real concern that we’re getting a real environmental problem in outer space. Commercial activity isn’t being regulated adequately … it’s happening faster than regulation.
“It’s largely US and Europeans but even China now is starting to have a true commercial space sector. It’s a bit of a wild west out there.”
But Russia has downplayed the incident.
Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted: “The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit.
“The station is in the green zone.”
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