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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: Out source to China
By PrinceGaz on 11/10/2009 4:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
If you make the pieces small enough, such as vaporising it with a high-power laser into individual atoms, then I doubt they would be a threat. The ISS is already slowed down by the (very thin) atmosphere which exists at that altitude which is why it needs its orbit boosted every so often, so being hit by atoms isn't a problem for it.

RE: Out source to China
By Solandri on 11/11/2009 5:32:00 AM , Rating: 3
You can't be sure you'll vaporize the whole thing. More than likely you'll vaporize just part of it, and now instead of one big piece of space debris, you'll have multiple pieces of smaller, harder to track space debris.

A 0.2 mm fleck of paint caused a 4mm crater on the Space Shuttle's windshield. Any laser would have to be sure to vaporize all of the target into much smaller pieces to eliminate the risk.

You are better off just keeping the debris intact and finding a way to deorbit the thing in one whole piece. Or (my idea, based on gelatinous cubes from D&D) put a big aerogel blob in orbit which will capture small pieces of debris for a few years, then deorbit it.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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