June 29, 2011

Space Station Crew Has Close Call With Space Debris

Space agency officials report that the International Space Station (ISS) had a close call on Tuesday with a piece of space debris.

According to Reuters, NASA said the object rushed towards the ISS, missing the orbiting lab by just 820 feet.  The agency said the crew moved to shelter inside two Soyuz spacecraft 18 minutes before it was expected to pass.

NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said the size of the space junk remains "undetermined" and no harm was done by its close encounter.

She said the six astronauts spent about half an hour in the Russian space capsule and then went "back to their regular day."

A similar event took place on March 12, 2009 when the crew of the space station was forced to seek temporary shelter as a piece of space debris approached.

"We monitor space debris pretty closely so this is not, sort of, out of the realm of what we know can happen," Schierholz said.

"But obviously, we are concerned about the safety of the crew so that is why we had them take shelter."

Space experts say such events are becoming more frequent as the population of space debris keeps rising.

According to NASA, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network tracks about 16,000 objects bigger than four inches across.

Analysts said the space station has never been hit by major space debris as it orbits 220 miles above the Earth.

"The orbit used by the ISS is no longer being littered," Moscow's Space News magazine editor Igor Marinin told AFP's bureau in the Russian capital.

"The incidents we might see in the future could be extreme but they will not be fatal."

According to France's National Center for Space Studies (CNES), debris impacts at about six miles per second, or 22,400 miles per hour, in low Earth orbit.

The station is a $100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under construction since 1998.


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