Space debris has started to become a problem in recent years, and a new event has shown how dangerous they could be if nothing is done to limit their spread. According to NASA, a piece of space debris was close to hitting the ISS this week.
Previous calculations revealed that the junk would quite come close to the space stations, reaching a distance of approximately 0.9 miles or 1.39 kilometers. While this may seem distant at first sight, it is important to highlight that space junk is moving at 17,500 miles per hour.
NASA decided to avoid potential risks, and the three crew members who are currently about the space station, Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner, entered and sealed themselves in an escape Soyuz spaceship that would have brought them back to Earth if the station suffered critical damage.
A Russian cargo spaceship was also used to move the space station towards a safer position, as Mission Control engaged the thrusters of the ship. These are standard maneuvers that have to be made when a significant risk is identified.
Space junk isn’t a new danger for the International Space Station as at least 29 avoidance maneuvers, similar to the ones mentioned above, have been executed since 1999. However, the rate of near-miss encounters has increased sharply in recent years, exposing astronauts and Mission Control to increased stress.
Due to the impressive speed at which they travel, even small debris fragments are strong enough to cause significant damage. Previous reports have suggested that more than 650,000 objects whose dimensions range from a softball to a fingernail are floating. Many debris has been generated by impacts between decommissioned satellites.
More debris has also been spread by anti-satellite weapons, which have been tested by Russia, India, and the US. While debris is being monitored to an extent, more steps need to be taken to prevent the accumulation of more junk in the future.