Space debris causes space station to move out of way, delays NASA astronaut spacewalk

NASA says the astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS were never in danger, and the space station has maneuvered out of harm's way.

Not for the first time, astronauts living on the International Space Station had to quickly change plans when space trash was tracking too close to the orbiting laboratory.

NASA said debris tracking data showed a fragment of a Russian Fregat-SB rocket upper stage would pass within less than a quarter mile from the ISS. The decision was made to move the space station well out of the path of the debris by firing the thrusters on the Russian Progress spacecraft docked at the ISS for 10 minutes and 21 seconds. 

"The crew was never in any immediate danger," according to the space agency.

There are more than 27,000 pieces of space debris larger than a softball orbiting Earth tracked by the Department of Defense's Surveillance Network sensors. However, there is even more debris too small to be tracked. 


Low-Earth orbit is full of space debris from human-made objects such as pieces of rocket hardware or old satellites. Each piece of debris is orbiting the Earth at about 17,000 mph, and a direct hit to the space station could be devastating.

In November 2021, a Russian missile test created about 1,500 pieces of space debris and forced the space station astronauts to shelter in docked spacecraft. U.S. Space Command and the U.S. State Department officials said the debris field was created when Russia launched a ground-based missile to destroy one of its own satellites. 

The most recent space debris incident delayed a planned spacewalk for two NASA astronauts.

NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada were set to exit the space station on Wednesday morning for a seven-hour spacewalk to finish installing some new rollout solar arrays, but mission control opted to delay the spacewalk to allow time to move the ISS.


Rubio and Cassada are now going to begin their work outside the ISS at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. NASA astronaut Nicole Mann of NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata will support the spacewalkers by operating the station's robotic Canadaarm2.

Also on Thursday, NASA space station program manager Joel Montalbano and Roscosmos human spaceflight executive director Sergei Krikalev will provide an update on the ongoing investigation into the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that began leaking coolant last week. 

The Soyuz is one of two spacecraft currently docked at the space station capable of carrying humans back to Earth.