The International Space Station had to perform an avoidance maneuver on Tuesday of this week to ensure the space station would clear a piece of space debris. NASA reported that the debris should pass within several miles of the station, but out of caution, the ISS trajectory was changed to move it further from the object. During the avoidance maneuver, the astronauts aboard the ISS, two Russians and an American, were relocated to their Soyuz spacecraft.
The crew members were placed into the spacecraft in case they needed to evacuate during the maneuver. NASA says that the closest time of approach for the space debris was 2221 GMT. The ISS currently orbits approximately 260 miles above the Earth and moves at about 17,130 mph. Due to the extremely high velocities in orbit, a very small object could severely damage a solar panel or other components of the space station.
This isn’t the first time the ISS has been forced to make an avoidance maneuver. NASA says they occur regularly, and last week’s maneuver was the 25th time one had been performed between 1999 and 2018.
If the space station was impacted by orbiting space debris, there is a potential of catastrophic failure of components that could potentially harm the crew aboard the space station. It doesn’t appear that the space station was ever in any real danger at this time.
NASA head Jim Bridenstine announced via Twitter that the maneuver burn had been completed successfully and that the astronauts are coming out of “safe haven.” Safe haven would be the Soyuz module they could have returned to Earth in safely if they were forced to evacuate.