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Space Junk May Force Crew from ISS (Update)

Published by Matt on Sat Nov 7, 2009 2:43 pm via: source
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Written by Nancy Atkinson

A hard-to-track piece of space junk may come within a half a kilometer of the International Space Station later today, and NASA managers are considering asking the crew to board the docked Soyuz capsules as a precaution. The time of closest approach is at 10:48 p.m. EST, and the object was detected too late for the station to do an evasive maneuver.

Soyuz docked to ISS. Credit: NASA

Soyuz docked to ISS. Credit: NASA

Depending on the outcome of additional tracking data analysis, the crew may be awakened later and directed to go into the Soyuz vehicles around 10:30 pm or given the option to sleep in Soyuz tonight. NASA says they don’t believe the crew is at risk, but precautions are prudent in dealing with space debris.

The crew was told about the debris, which ground stations have not been able to track consistently, said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring. Trajectory experts are continuing to verify information about the debris. “All this is a precaution, and we do not believe the crew is in any danger at this time or at the time of closest approach, but are making preparations in the unlikely event the approach would be closer than expected,” Herring said.

Update #1, 2:30pm: As of now, NASA is planning for the crew to close all the hatches on the station and enter the Soyuz. “We have data that indicates we might be heading to a conjunction, however we do not have enough data to have any confidence in the outcomes we’re predicting at this point,” Capcom Ricky Arnold told the crew from mission control. “We’re hoping we’re going to be a lot smarter at 2200 (GMT), but right now we have to plan for an indication that we will have a conjunction.”

Update #2, 5:30 pm: NASA has now said that after further analysis, the space debris they have been tracking no longer poses any concern or threat to the ISS. Everyone can rest easy tonight! The piece of debris was only 5 cm long, and will not pass within the “pizza box” zone around the station (0.75 x 25 x 25 kilometers) that calls for an alert.

NASA will make a final decision on what course of action they will take at about 5 p.m.

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