NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Monday he was “outraged” by a Russian space missile test that set off a cloud of debris and forced astronauts aboard the International Space Station to take action. ‘avoidance.
“With its long and rich 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” as well as the taikonauts aboard the station. space, Nelson said in a statement. declaration.
The State Department confirmed that the debris came from an old Russian satellite destroyed by the missile strike.
“It was dangerous. It was reckless. It was irresponsible, ”State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Earlier Monday, the four Americans, a German and two Russians on board were forced to briefly take refuge in their moored capsules because of the debris.
At least 1,500 pieces of the destroyed satellite were large enough to appear on radar and with telescopes, Price said. But countless other fragments were too small to track, but still posed a danger to the space station as well as satellites in orbit.
Even a stain of paint can cause significant damage during an orbit at 17,500 mph (28,000 km / h). Something big, on impact, could be catastrophic.
“We will continue to make it very clear that we will not tolerate this kind of activity,” Price said.
He said the United States had “on several occasions expressed concerns to its Russian counterparts about a possible satellite test.”
NASA’s mission control said the increased threat from debris could continue for a few more days and continue to disrupt scientific research and other work by astronauts. Four of the seven crew members arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday evening.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who is halfway through a year-long mission, called it a “crazy but well-coordinated day” as he wished Mission Control good night.
“It was definitely a great way to bond as a crew, starting with our very first day working in space,” he said.
US Space Command said it was tracking the debris field in orbit. NASA had made no comment as of late afternoon, and there was no word on Monday evening from Russia about the missile strike.
A similar weapons test by China in 2007 also resulted in countless debris. One of those pieces threatened to come dangerously close to the space station last week. Although this was later dismissed as a risk, NASA still had the station relocated.
Anti-satellite missile tests by the United States in 2008 and India in 2019 were conducted at much lower altitudes, well below the space station.
Until Monday, Space Command was already tracking some 20,000 space debris, including old and broken satellites from around the world.
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said it would take days, if not weeks and months, to catalog the latest wrecks and confirm their orbits. The fragments will start to spread out over time, due to atmospheric drag and other forces, he said in an email.
The space station is particularly at risk because the test took place near its orbit, McDowell said. But all objects in low Earth orbit – including the Chinese three-person space station and even the Hubble Space Telescope – will be at “somewhat increased risk” over the next few years, he noted.
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the most immediate concern was space debris. Beyond that, the United States is monitoring “the kinds of capabilities that Russia appears to want to develop that could pose a threat not only to our national security interest, but to the security interests of other space nations.”
Earlier today, the Russian Space Agency said via Twitter that the astronauts had been ordered in their docked capsules, in case they had to get away quickly.
The agency said the crew were back for routine operations, and the commander of the space station, Russian Anton Shkaplerov, tweeted: “Friends, all is well with us!”
But the debris cloud posed a threat in every passing orbit – or every hour and a half – and all robotic activity on the U.S. side was suspended. German astronaut Matthias Maurer also had to find a safer place to sleep than the European laboratory.