Space, or at least Earth’s orbit, is becoming more and more congested, and now the International Space Station may be in danger from a rogue bit of space debris. The Pentagon estimates there are now more than 370,000 pieces of junk floating around in low-Earth orbit, from collisions, missile tests, and space missions, turning the area directly above Earth into “an orbiting rubbish dump”. And now one piece of that rubbish may collide with the International Space Station, according to NASA.
The junk in question is a piece of a Chinese satellite that was destroyed in 2007. The debris will be near the space station at 4:21 p.m. eastern time. Around 3pm (or about twenty minutes from the time this was published), NASA will decide whether to evacuate the ISS crew of three to the Soyuz capsule for safety. According the a video on the NASA website, things are looking favorable now, but they are still on alert.
There is an imaginary box around the space station, measuring 25km x 25km x 0.75km. If anything looks like it will pass within that box, the space station will either be moved, or the astronauts will be evacuated. In this case, there was not enough time to steer the station out of the way. Only this past Friday, there was another piece of debris that came within the “box”. In that case, the station had time to move out of the way. Check in at NASA.gov to see if the Chinese satellite debris does in fact collide with the station. Let’s hope not.
The current space station team is made up of NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli.
*Update*: The space station was given the all-clear, the debris is not going to be close enough to warrant an evacuation.