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ISS Takes Unexpected Ride in 'Wake-Up Call for Mankind'

International Space Station was forced to drop 1K feet to avoid collision with space junk
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2021 7:10 AM CST
ISS Takes Unexpected Ride in 'Wake-Up Call for Mankind'
In this image from video, the International Space Station is seen as astronauts in the SpaceX Dragon capsule undock on Nov. 8, 2021.   (NASA via AP)

(Newser) – Astronauts on the International Space Station took a 1,000-foot plunge on Friday after a piece of decades-old space junk threatened to collide with them. Dmitry Rogozin, who heads up Russia's Roscosmos space agency, says the unscheduled three-minute "evasion maneuver" was set in motion due to space debris, which typically consists of pieces of spacecraft that break off or launch vehicles that were abandoned in space, floating around and posing a potential hazard to the ISS or satellites, per the Guardian. In this case, the space junk was a fragment from a US Pegasus rocket that went into orbit in 1994.

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Per CBS News, Roscosmos explained on Twitter that Friday's ISS maneuver was achieved by the Progress MS-18 cargo ship docked at the space station firing its thrusters for 161 seconds, which lowered the space station's position just enough to avoid the debris. "The PDAM burn was good," flight controllers at Houston's Johnson Space Center assured the ISS astronauts early this morning, using the abbreviation for "predetermined debris avoidance maneuver."

The existence of space junk can be a touchy subject, as evidenced by an essay published in the Financial Times on Thursday by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who slammed Russia for destroying a satellite in an anti-satellite missile test last month, creating even more debris, per Reuters. "The test should ... act as a wake-up call to mankind as we risk turning Earth's celestial neighborhood into a junkyard," he wrote. "Unless we change course, the opportunities of space to improve our lives on Earth could be closed off for generations."

NASA had to put off an antenna fix earlier in the week due to similar space junk. It's not clear where that debris originated from. Despite the unplanned maneuver, Rogozin says that a Soyuz MS-20 set for takeoff on Wednesday in Kazakhstan will still be able to dock at the ISS on schedule. (Read more International Space Station stories.)

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