Officials at NASA were nervous as a piece of unidentified space junk nearly collided with the International Space Station Tuesday morning. At approximately 8:08am EDT, an object buzzed the ISS at a closure rate of some 29,000 miles per hour. All six astronauts were ordered to take refuge in the two Soyuz spacecraft which serve as lifeboats. The space junk passed withing 1,100 feet of the space station making it a very close call. The crew remained in their Soyuz spacecraft for about 30 minutes until the all-clear was sounded four minutes after the object passed safely.
The current crew consists of two Americans, Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr., three Russians, Sergey Volkov, Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutayev and one Japanese astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa. Upon being alerted, hatches were sealed and the crew split into two groups of three, boarding the Russian-built Soyuz vehicles. Once aboard, one single command is all that is needed to release the Soyuz spacecrafts and escape. Each has its own propulsion system allowing them to maneuver and return to Earth.
Tuesday′s incident marks only the second time in the 10 years of the ISS operation that crews took shelter and prepared to escape due to space junk. On March 12, 2009, remains of an old satellite came within 900 feet of the International Space Station. There have been twelve other incidents of potential collisions, but during each of those times, the crews had several days warning and were able to maneuver the space station clear, either by using the station′s own thruster system, or on several occasions when docked with the space shuttle, the shuttle would use its thrusters to adjust the orbit. For this incident, the crew had about a 15-hour warning.
Tuesday′s close call as a piece of space junk came close to colliding with the International Space Station went smoothly. NASA gave the six astronauts plenty of time from the initial warning to prepare and board the two Soyuz spacecrafts to be used as lifeboats. The astronauts spent 30 minutes waiting and were given the all-clear four minutes after the object flew by at 29,000 miles per hour some 1,100 feet away.