International Space Station
The International Space Station nearly collided with a piece of debris from other spacecraft, called space junk. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The International Space Station recently came close to colliding with orbiting debris from space craft, referred to as “space junk.” The space around the Earth is becoming increasingly cluttered with remnants of satellites, rockets and space craft. A small piece of debris can pose a fatal danger to astronauts in the event of a collision.

Space agencies pollute low Earth orbit

The International Space Station recently avoided having a hole punched in it by an orbiting piece of debris, referred to as “space junk,” according to MSNBC. A six-inch piece of floating metal was detected in orbit that was heading straight for the space station, and the astronauts aboard were notified about nine hours before the potential collision. That did not leave enough time for evasive maneuvers, and the three person crew had to take refuge in the Soyuz capsule they will be returning to Earth in. The debris passed by a few miles from the space station.

Grave danger posed by space junk

Space junk, as the floating cloud of debris around Earth is called, can cause serious danger to anyone in orbit. There are currently thousands of pieces of debris that can be tracked, but there’s no telling how much stuff is up there in total. The danger is that space junk, usually pieces of destroyed satellites or spacecraft from decades ago, is moving at about five miles per second. Were any to hit the International Space Station, it would instantly depressurize the facility, sucking all the air into outer space and killing anyone aboard. The space station is routinely moved out of the way of space debris, according to Space.com. This is the second near miss in a week; the station had to be moved on April 1 to avoid being struck by space junk. Various international space agencies are currently working on potential solutions to space junk.

Golden anniversary

April 12 this year will mark 50 years since the first manned spaceflight. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin piloted Vostok 1 into space and became the first man to leave the atmosphere of Earth. To commemorate the occasion, a statue of Gagarin is being erected next to a statue of explorer James Cook at The Mall in London, located next to the Admiralty Arch, according to the BBC. Gagarin grew up in a poor family, excelled as a pilot in the Soviet military and was eventually chosen to be the first man to fly in space. Unfortunately, he was killed in 1968 during a training accident, just as the Soyuz program was beginning.

Sources

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42436198/ns/technology_and_science-space/?GT1=43001

Space.com: http://www.space.com/11300-space-junk-station-astronauts-shelter.html

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12975006

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