International Space Station

ISS astronauts forced to shelter after Russia destroys orbiting satellite

Image credit: Pixabay

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) were forced to seek shelter in their docked capsules yesterday after the destruction of a Russian satellite shot fast-moving debris into orbit.

The satellite was destroyed as part of a Russian test for a space missile. However, the blast created at least 1,500 new pieces of space junk that will take years to leave orbit.

Nasa issued an angry response to the test, which endangered the lives of those currently residing on the ISS including two Russian astronauts, Anton Nikolaevich and Petr Valerievich.

“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety,” Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said.

“I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilising action. 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.”

The crew was awakened and directed to close the hatches to radial modules on the station, although hatches between the US and Russian segments remain open.

An additional precautionary measure of sheltering the crew was executed for two passes through or near the vicinity of the debris cloud. The crew members made their way into their spacecraft shortly before 7am GMT and remained there until about 9am.

The space station will be passing through or near the cloud of debris every 90 minutes, but the need to shelter for only the second and third passes of the event was based on a risk assessment made by the debris office and ballistics specialists at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

The US Space Command said it was tracking the field of orbiting debris, but Russia had made no official statement about the missile strike.

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the most immediate concern was the space debris. Beyond that, the US is monitoring “the kinds of capabilities that Russia seems to want to develop which could pose a threat not just to our national security interest but to the security interests of other space-faring nations.”

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