Debris prompts space station crew to seek shelter

Irene Klotz, Reuters
March 25, 2012, 5:03 am

Nighttime view from the International Space Station shows the Atlantic coast of the United States in this NASA handout image dated February 6, 2012. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A passing piece of potentially dangerous space debris forced astronauts at the International Space Station to temporarily seek refuge in escape ships early on Saturday, U.S. officials said.

The debris, a fragment from an old Russian satellite named Cosmos 2251 that smashed into an Iridium Communications spacecraft in 2009, passed harmlessly by the $100 billion orbital outpost at 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638 GMT), NASA said.

With enough advance notice, NASA will maneuver the space station, which orbits about 240 miles above the planet, to put more space between it and passing debris. The other option is for the station’s six crew members to shelter inside the two Soyuz capsules berthed at the station in case the outpost is struck and depressurizes.

“This was a very erratic piece of Cosmos 2251 debris and tracking it was very difficult,” NASA spokesman Michael Curie wrote in an email to Reuters.

“Its size and exact distance are unknown, and the crew sheltered in place as a highly-conservative, cautionary measure. The predicted miss distance prior to its passing was 11 to 14 kilometers (6.8 to 8.7 miles) in overall miss distance. But again, we do not know its exact distance at 2:38 am EDT, the time of closest approach,” he said.

It was the third time a crew has had to shelter in Soyuz spacecraft when debris was predicted to pass close to the space station, NASA said.

More than 20,000 pieces of man-made debris larger than a softball currently orbit Earth. Space junk travels at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, so even small pieces have enough energy to cause significant damage upon impact.

NASA says the greatest risk from debris comes from untrackable objects. The February 10, 2009, collision of the Russian and Iridium satellites added more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to the growing list of space junk. Two years earlier, China intentionally destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites to test a missile, generating more than 3,000 pieces of debris.

The U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network tracks objects as small as two inches in diameter in orbits close to Earth, such as where the space station flies, and about one yard (.9 meter) in orbit in higher orbits.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Debris prompts space station crew to seek shelter – Yahoo! New Zealand News.

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Moon to have no-fly zones by month end

September 7, 2011

R. PRASAD

THE PURPOSE: NASA’s “recommendations” of no-fly zones are for preserving and protecting Apollo missions’ historical sites and artefacts.

No-fly zones will come into effect on the moon for the very first time by the end of this month! Why, even buffer zones that spacecraft may have to avoid will come into existence. The reason: avoiding any spraying of rocket exhaust or dust onto certain historical sites and artefacts on the moon.

The historical sites are of course the Apollo landing sites and artefacts present on the moon. And the “recommendations” are for preserving and protecting these historical sites. There are currently more than three dozen historical sites that preserve the more than four-decade-old remains.

“Apollo 11 and 17 sites [will] remain off-limits, with ground-travel buffers of 75 metres and 225 metres from each respective lunar lander,” states the July 20 guidelines of NASA. Science journal had obtained the guidelines.

No legal binding

According to Science, by the end of this month NASA is expected to come up with a set of “recommendations” for spacecraft and astronauts visiting the “U.S. government property on the moon.” Of course, these recommendations will not be legally binding as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty makes it clear that the lunar surface has no owner.

Despite the lack of ownership, NASA is hopeful that other countries will respect the U.S. sentiments. Incidentally, the restriction list contains more than the historical sites. For instance, the list includes studying discarded food and abandoned astronaut faeces.

Study of bacteria

Though these restrictions may appear preposterous, there are clear scientific compulsions to collect and study them. For example, studying the discarded food will reveal the viability of bacteria on the moon and, if present, how they have mutated and survived after years of exposure to solar radiation.

It is worthwhile to remember that all scientific experiments conducted on board during space travel are of a few days duration and pale in comparison with decades of constant exposure to several stressful lunar conditions/environment.

Similarly, there are other scientific compulsions to study the artefacts left behind on the moon. For instance, any metallic objects would reveal how these materials have degraded after prolonged exposure to solar radiation and other peculiar conditions prevailing on the moon.

What prompted the space agency to act was the Google Lunar X prize for those landing a robot that moves 500 metres and sends images from the moon. Precise landing near the Apollo sites would get them more money.

Very recently, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. The paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface have been very clearly captured by the images.

According to NASA, at the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the Moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insights into the Moon’s environment and interior.

via The Hindu : Sci-Tech / Science : Moon to have no-fly zones by month end.

How Would NASA & Russia Evacuate the International Space Station?

By Clara Moskowitz

updated 8/29/2011 4:19:18 PM ET

In the wake of a Russian rocket failure, NASA is considering evacuating the crew of the International Space Station later this year. The unprecedented move would mark the first time in more than 10 years that the orbiting outpost has gone unmanned.

The space station evacuation is one possibility following the failure of the unmanned Russian supply spacecraft just after its Aug. 24 launch — a surprise given the reliable track record of its workhorse Soyuz rocket. The vehicle’s Progress 44 cargo craft, and its 2.9 tons of supplies bound for the International Space Station, crashed in Siberia.

An investigation into the cause of the failure is under way, but until the issue is resolved NASA and its Russian partners are delaying upcoming launches to crews and cargo to the space station. The Soyuz rockets used to launch Progress vehicles are similar to ones used to launch crews into orbit, station managers said. [ Photos: Russia’s Lost Cargo Ship Progress 44 ]

So if a root cause isn’t found quickly, they may have to ground manned Soyuz rockets for the time being, forcing the space agencies to leave the $100 billion orbiting laboratory unmanned for the first time since 2001….

via How Would NASA & Russia Evacuate the International Space Station? – Technology & science – Space – Space.com – msnbc.com.