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Space Debris Put Station Crew On Alert

March 12, 2009

International Space Station Expedition 18 crew members had to take precautionary measures due to space debris that had been determined to be within the range where a collision was possible.

News of the close approach came too late for flight controllers to coordinate an avoidance maneuver. A portion of a spent satellite motor was within the distance of the station’s debris avoidance maneuver requirement “box.”

Crew members entered their Soyuz TMA-13 capsule and soft-locked the hatches, in case the debris would affect the space station and they were required to undock. The closure of the hatches ensures the safety of the crew and the ability to quickly depart the station in the unlikely event the debris collided with the station causing a depressurization.

The time of closest approach of the debris to the station was 12:39 p.m. EDT. Once the object cleared the station, the crew exited the Soyuz and reopened the hatches.

The crew was in the Soyuz from 12:35-12:45 p.m. EDT. They remained in the Soyuz until the debris risk had passed. Moving the crew into the Soyuz was a precaution, as the probability of impact was low.

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