NASA’S top boss has slammed Russia after a missile it fired into one of its own satellites forced the space station to perform an emergency swerve.
Bill Nelson said the weapons test on Monday generated an orbital debris field that endangered the lives of seven astronauts onboard the orbiting lab.
The ISS crew is currently comprised of four U.S. astronauts, a German astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.
They were directed to take shelter in their docked spaceship capsules for two hours after the test as a precaution to allow for a quick getaway had it been necessary, NASA said.
The hazardous junk is expected to pose an ongoing hazard to space activities for years to come as it orbits the Earth roughly once every 90 minutes.
“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety,” Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said.
“I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action.
“With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts.
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“Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.”
Following the test, the research lab, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, continued to pass through or near the debris cluster every 90 minutes.
However, NASA specialists determined it was safe for the crew to return to the station’s interior after the third pass, the agency said.
The crew was also ordered to seal off hatches to several modules of the space station for the time being, according to NASA.
“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment,” Nelson said.
“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”
Experts say the testing of weapons that shatter satellites in orbit pose a space hazard by creating clouds of fragments that can collide with other objects, setting off a chain reaction of projectiles through Earth orbit.
The Russian military and ministry of defense were not immediately available for comment.
The direct-ascent anti-satellite missile fired by Russia generated more than 1,500 pieces of “trackable orbital debris” and would likely spawn hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments, the U.S. Space Command said in a statement.
“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” space command chief U.S. Army General James Dickinson said.
The debris from the missile test “will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the missile test as “reckless and irresponsible.” At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said the test showed the need to firmly establish norms of behavior in space.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed accusations that Moscow blew up one of its own satellites with a missile strike.
“To declare that the Russian Federation creates risks for the peaceful use of space is, at the very least, hypocrisy,” Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow, adding that “there are no facts” behind the claims.
The incident came just four days after the latest group of four space station astronauts – Americans Raja Chair, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron of NASA and European Space Agency crewmate Matthias Maurer of Germany – arrived at the orbiting platform to begin a six-month science mission.
They were welcomed by three space station crew members already on board – Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
The space station, spanning the size of an American football field end to end, has been continuously occupied since November 2000.
It’s operated by an international partnership of five space agencies from 15 countries, including Russia’s Roscosmos.
Russia is not the first country to conduct anti-satellite tests in space. The United States performed the first in 1959, when satellites were rare and new.
In April Russia carried out another test of an anti-satellite missile as officials have said that space will increasingly become an important domain for warfare.
In 2019, India shot down one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit with a ground-to-space missile.
The U.S. military is increasingly dependent on satellites to determine what it does on the ground, guiding munitions with space-based lasers and satellites, as well as using such assets to monitor missile launches and track its forces.
These tests have raised questions about the long-term sustainability of space operations essential to a huge range of commercial activities, including banking and GPS services.
Space junk is posing an increasing threat to the space station and satellites[/caption]
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