NASA kept close tabs today on an old piece of space junk that threatened to come too close to the international space station as the shuttle Discovery raced toward the outpost for a 220-mile-high linkup. Experts initially warned that the debris from a Soviet satellite that broke up in 1981 could veer within a half-mile of the space station. But they later said it appeared that the 4-inch piece of junk might remain at a safe distance.
The debris' erratic orbit kept experts watching closely, though it appears the space station might not have to move out of the way. If Mission Control orders a space station maneuver to dodge the junk, it would be carried out tonight, well ahead of the tomorrow morning's projected docking. If the station were moved, Discovery would have to adjust its course for docking late tomorrow afternoon.