A NASA blog post showed that a “piece of unknown space debris” flew within several kilometers of the ISS (International Space Station) on Tuesday night.
About The Event
Scientists determined that the mystery hunk of space junk would fly by the space station at approximately 6:21 p.m. ET at only 1.39 kilometers (less than 0.9 miles).
That is concerningly close for an object moving at 17,500 mph (over ten times the bullet).
Before the event, NASA acted out of “an abundance of caution” to avoid the impact with the football field-sized space station by engaging an avoidance maneuver.
During the operation, the three crew members who live aboard the ISS (astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner) went aboard a Soyuz spaceship attached to the ISS.
In the unlikely event that the unidentified object stuck the station, that would have improved their likelihood of escape and survival.
At 5:19, Mission Control fired the thrusters of a Russian cargo spaceship for about 150 seconds to move the massive complex out of harm’s way.
Maneuvers like routing if the chance of impact is more significant than one in ten thousand, NASA says.
Soon afterward, crew members left Soyuz and returned to the ISS, Jim Bridenstine tweeted.
The Rising Space Junk Problem
Space junk was a severe problem for the ISS for years. The station had to do twenty-nine avoidance maneuvers since 1999, with near-miss events becoming increasingly common.
The problem in space is velocity. Even small pieces of junk are huge threats – Jack Bacon, NASA senior scientists, said that a 10-centimeter sphere of aluminum is equivalent to detonating 15 pounds of TNT.
Millions of pieces of space junk are flying around our planet each day. Over 650,000 of them are softball-to fingernail-sized.
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