A NASA astronaut has been “told to hide” inside a Russian spacecraft as the International Space Station (ISS) is facing the threat of being struck by space debris.
It came amid reports that space debris were heading towards the space station. They are said to have narrowly missed the ISS, but experts warned they could reapproach between 11:44 to 11:54. When the news broke. ground control in Russia and the US appeared to fear for the worst as they ordered their crew to hide inside their spaceships.
A flight controller in Houston said during a live stream on NASA’s website that the ISS crews, consisting of Russians and Americans, fled to docked spaceships to camp out from the crash.
Space enthusiast Liam Kennedy commented on Twitter: “ISS crew told to hide due to threat of space debris.”
But while Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov quickly fled to the Soyuz MS-19, stuck with them too was said to be NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
The rest of the US crew, including Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Germany’s Matthias Maurer fled to the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The news comes after part of a Chinese satellite whizzed past the space station in a near miss on Wednesday.
The ISS reportedly swerved away from the lump of debris to avoid a collision with piece of the Chinese weather satellite destroyed in a weapons test in 2007.
The Chinese Fengyun-1C satellite was due to zoom past the ISS at a distance of about 600 meters in the early hours of November 12, and the ISS’ orbit was elevated by 1,200 meters in that connection.
This did not catch the crew completely off guard, as they were given two days to prepare for the collision, but today the alarm was sounded too late and astronauts were forced totake emergency measures.Ian Benecken posted on Twitter: “Next space debris cloud TCA (time of closest approach) will be between 11:44 and 11:54 UTC…the hatches to all radial modules stay closed for today and will only be opened on request between the TCAs.”Roscosmos, the Russian state organisation responsible for space flights, said: “The guidelines say that the crew should stay on a ship at the approaching moment in the event of the ISS’ approach by a potentially dangerous object.”
The ISS is no stranger to threats from flying threats of space debris.
The Central Research Institute for Machine Building (TsNIIMash) said in April 2019 that the ISS had performed a total of 25 manoeuvres to escape collisions with space debris.
The shortest distance between the ISS and chunks of space debris was 720 metres.
And two manoeuvres of the sort were also performed by the ISS last year, in July and September.
There are reportedly over 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, or “space junk,” that are tracked by the US’ Department of Defence global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors.
And there is much more debris that is too small to be tracked, but, like the one in latest event, are big enough to threaten human spaceflight and robotic missions and they exist in the near-Earth space environment.
As both the debris and spacecraft travel at extremely high speeds (approximately 15,700 mph in low Earth orbit), an impact of even a tiny piece of orbital debris with a spacecraft or satellite could cause devastation.