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The International Space Station   (Source: NASA)
Astronauts aboard the ISS were forced to sleep in Russian Soyuz escape pods due to a piece of flying debris

A small piece of space debris flew near the International Space Station (ISS) late last week, with ground control flight operators instructing ISS astronauts to hide in escape crafts.

The six-person crew aboard the ISS first learned of the debris early on Friday morning.  Since it proved so difficult to monitor it using satellite and ground-based technology, NASA said the piece of debris likely was extremely small.

Due to the space debris, the crew had to sleep in two Russian Soyuz craft designed to be escape pods -- the actual trajectory of the debris was unknown, causing even more alarm from mission operators.

It turned out, according to space officials, that the debris didn't come close to the ISS after all, but the decision to order the crew into the Soyuz escape craft was still a good idea.  

As the number of floating space junk increases, the possibility of impact with the ISS, satellites or manned missions has increased.  The ISS has been forced to undergo avoidance maneuvers in the past, but this may become an issue that is even more serious in the future.

The United States Air Force announced early last spring it would set aside $500 million in 2010 to help track space junk floating around Earth.  NASA officials also again said the threat of space junk would continue to increase unless space experts came up with methods to stop it.

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RE: Relative velocities
By Odysseus145 on 11/10/2009 2:37:41 PM , Rating: 3
Even if the difference in their trajectories is as low as half a degree, the debris will still impact at about 150mph. Which is more than enough.

RE: Relative velocities
By ThePooBurner on 11/10/2009 3:27:54 PM , Rating: 1
The Speed of a bullet is close to 700-800mph, and those can't always even pierce metal at point blank (being a sharp piece of metal vs just a bolt). 150mph shouldn't be a problem if they made the thing with any sort of thick walls for protection.

RE: Relative velocities
By BZDTemp on 11/10/2009 6:51:44 PM , Rating: 5
Nothing we put in space are any heavier than absolutely necessary!

Remember that bringing a payload into orbit is a big job and the actual payload weight vs. rocket/shuttle+rockets means each gram cost big bucks. Living in a space station is sort of living in a glass house - it is fine most of the time but when the kids next door play baseball it get's a little exciting :-)

RE: Relative velocities
By nuarbnellaffej on 11/10/2009 9:47:09 PM , Rating: 2
The walls of space stations are more like aluminum foil than armor plating.

RE: Relative velocities
By PrinceGaz on 11/10/2009 11:17:55 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, or probably more like the strength of the side of a can of beer. A lot stronger than aluminium foil and not going to bent out of shape by mild impacts, but a solid projectile travelling at any speed will punch straight through.

In the orbit the ISS and other satellites there are in; other objects are travelling in all trajectories, meaning the average impact if it were to occur would come from a right-angle at a velocity of over 10,000mph. Some could be head-on at doiuble the velocity, whilst others might be very gentle contacts from an almost identical orbit.

A typical collision with the ISS if it was not moved out of the way would result in something like what happened to that Iridium satellite a few months ago which was hit by a Russian satellite (both in a fairly low orbit like the ISS is). Any sizeable object (basically more than a few millimeters in size) would almost certainly make the ISS module(s) it passed through unusable until the walls were repaired, or until emergency force-fields were erected in the effected areas (assuming such technology is available).

The US owes a lot to Russia for the ISS still being operational, it has to be asid, what with those docked Soyuz capsules being the crew's escape-pods, as well Russian launches during the Shuttle's past down-time allowing it to continue to be manned. Rather ironic that a failed Soviet state has been essential many times to the rest of the world's highest profile space programme continuing. Whilst I love progress, there's a lot to be said for tried and trusted technology (and yes, I am aware that Soviet launchers and capsules are progressing, but in a more progressive way rather than in big jumps).

RE: Relative velocities
By johnsonx on 11/10/2009 11:49:02 PM , Rating: 1
or until emergency force-fields were erected in the effected areas (assuming such technology is available).

Wow. If we didn't know before, we certainly know now to disregard anything you say. Go back to watching Star Trek.

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