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  • Space Station Astronauts Take Shelter as Debris Threat Passes
    Posted by Mark Carreau 6:43 AM on Mar 24, 2012

    The six astronauts aboard the International Space Station took shelter aboard their docked Soyuz spacecraft early Saturday to wait out a predicted close pass from a piece of debris created by the February 2009 collision between U. S. and Russian satellites.

    The time of closest approach, Saturday at 2:38 a.m., EST, came and went without incident. Mission commander Dan Burbank and Don Pettit, both of NASA, Andre Kuipers, of the European Space Agency; and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Anton Shklaperov and Anatoli Ivanishin were able to resume their normal activities aboard the 244-mile high orbiting science laboratory.

    "Nothing," noted one of the cosmonauts as the threat passed. "Looks like that's it."

    "Thanks for taking our back," Burbank told NASA's Mission Control.

    It was only the third time astronauts have been ordered to take shelter in the more than 11 years of continuous space station occupancy and the first time since June 28, 2011.

    Notice of the collision threat posed by the Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite came from U. S. Strategic Command radar tracking assets early Friday -- too late to prepare the space station for an avoidance maneuver. The dimensions of the fragment were classified as "small," and the trajectory "eccentric" and difficult to track, said NASA spokesman Rob Navias.

    The uncertainty of the conjunction prompted the decision by NASA space station flight director Jerry Jason to call for the "shelter in place" late Friday. The station crew, which was advised earlier Friday of the threat, was awakened an hour early to begin their sheltering preparations.

    The difficult-to-track debris from Cosmos 2251 threatened to pass within nine miles of the station, NASA said. The radial distance of the fragment from the station's trajectory was placed at just over 300 feet above or below.

    After closing hatches to U. S. elements of the station, Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin took shelter in their Soyuz TMA-22 capsule docked to the station's Russian segment Zvezda service module.

    Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers retreated to their Soyuz TMA-0M3 docked to the adjoining Zarya module.

    The docking hatches to the two transport capsules, which double as life boats, were closed as well.

    The defunct Cosmos 2251 and the active U. S. Iridium 33 satellites collided nearly 500 miles above Siberia on Feb. 10, 2009. The first major collision between two orbiting satellites created hundreds of debris fragments.

    Saturday's sheltering activities had no impact on the European Space Agency's ATV-3 re-supply mission spacecraft, which was launched from French Guiana early Friday.

    The ATV-3, filled with just over seven tons of supplies, is on a course to dock with the space station on Mar. 28 at 6:32 p.m., EST.

    Tags: os99, ISS, NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA

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