The threat of space junk was frighteningly highlighted in the movie ‘Gravity’ when Sandra Bullock’s character was stuck in outer space with the constant fear of space junk hitting her while she was stranded. Now, the crew at the International Space Station were compelled to take cover in an escape vehicle for a short time Thursday when a small piece of an old Russian weather satellite came floating by.
More than 500,000 pieces of space junk are known to be circulating in Earth’s orbit – where they have the potential to strike satellites and the space station, according to NASA. Some of this debris is only 2 inches across, however since it is traveling at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, it can be quite destructive to anything in its path.
Officials at NASA Mission Control in Houston calculated that the fragment of space junk would pass close to the space station at 7:01 a.m. Central time. Based on the small chance of a “possible conjunction with the station,” flight director Ed Van Cise ordered ISS Commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineers Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko to take shelter in a Soyuz vehicle that is docked at the station.
This was the fourth time that a space station crew had to be relocated via a Soyuz vehicle in anticipation of a possible rendezvous with space junk, NASA said.
Fortunately, however, after the debris passed by, the crew were cleared to return to work.
Kelly tweeted his relief: “Happy there was no impact. Great coordination with international ground teams. Excellent training.”
After the danger had passed, Van Cise offered a cutting-edge suggestion for dealing with the space junk threat.
“We need to launch a #SpaceSharknado where sharks have freakin’ laser beams on their heads #pewpewpew,” he tweeted.
Kelly and Kornienko are in the fourth month of a yearlong deployment on the ISS to help space experts anticipate some of the issues that would arise in a human mission to Mars. Kelly is part of an unusual twin experiment involving his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who last flew in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.