Russia destroyed one of its own satellites in outer space with a ground-based missile during a missile test on Monday, November 15. The Russian authorities did not inform space agencies it would perform a missile test and the operation became a threat to NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts who are working aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The United States Department of Defense (DoD) says it is tracking over 1,500 pieces of debris caused by the missile strike. Some pieces are too small that they cannot be traced but pose an equal danger to the astronauts in orbit because the pieces are flying at high-speeds. The pieces in orbit can travel faster than a bullet which can cause damage to the Space Station.
“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, “Like Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board. All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment,” he stated.
The seven astronauts at ISS were directed to take shelter aboard their spacecraft early Monday morning, as soon as NASA mission control in Houston, Texas, noticed a cloud of space debris was passing by the Space Station every 90 minutes (the time it takes ISS to circle Earth). The agency says it had to wake up the astronauts to initiate an emergency shelter in place. SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts, who arrived to ISS less than a week ago, took shelter inside the Crew Dragon Endurance vehicle docked at the Harmony module. The Russian cosmonauts took shelter aboard Roscosmos Soyuz. The ISS crew resumed their work later in the evening, however, they were directed to close hatch sections of some portions of the station as a precaution against a potential debris impact. “NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit,” Nelson said.
The British government also voiced their concerns over Russia's ASAT missile test. “This destructive anti-satellite missile test by Russia shows a complete disregard for the security, safety and sustainability of space,” said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in a statement. “The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come.”
Debris generated by the dangerous Russian ASAT test caused ISS astronauts and cosmonauts to undertake emergency procedures for safety.— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) November 15, 2021
It's unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only intl partner astronauts on the ISS but also their own cosmonauts. https://t.co/8VKJxon9mW
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