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Chinese Satellite Debris Nearing Space Station?

July 24, 2010

A Russian official said Friday that debris from a satellite destroyed in 2007 by a Chinese missile is nearing the International Space Station and astronauts are ready to take cover if necessary.

Chinese weather satellite Feng Yung 1C was shot down by a ground missile launched from China.

“If the calculations show that the debris is approaching the station at an unacceptably close range, the six astronauts will receive the order to take shelter in the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft which are docked with the ISS,” an official at mission control outside Moscow told the Interfax news agency.

The official said the flight path of the debris was “dangerous” and it was already too late to carry out a maneuver to “divert the station from the rubbish.”

NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries said the debris had been monitored and its distance from the station was substantial.

“A possible conjunction with a piece of the Chinese Feng Yun satellite debris was monitored by ballistics specialists late last night and overnight,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to the AFP news agency.

“It was determined, however, that the miss distance is substantial and no debris avoidance maneuver will be required.”

The satellite was the first shot down by any country in two decades, and China’s confirmation of the event sparked a sharp debate from the U.S. about space debris.

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