Russian weapons test destroys satellite, creates cloud of space debris putting ISS astronauts at risk: US officials


This image from video provided by NASA shows the SpaceX Dragon docking with the International Space Station, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts pulled up Thursday at the International Space Station, their new home until spring. It took 21 hours for the flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the glittering outpost. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP/WFLA) — United States officials said Russia acted dangerously and recklessly on Monday when it destroyed one of its own satellites during a weapons test, creating a cloud of orbital debris that could put humans in space at risk.

“Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct ascent and anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

According to Price, the test created more than 1,500 trackable pieces of orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces of debris. He said the debris puts the International Space Station at risk, as well as other satellites and orbital materials sent into space by countries around the world.

“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” Price said. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”

Earlier Monday, space junk threatened the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Monday and forced them to seek shelter in their docked capsules.

The U.S. Space Command had said it was tracking a field of orbiting debris and that the situation had the debris coming uncomfortably close to the space station on subsequent orbits, and required the astronauts to close and then reopen several compartments, including the European lab, every 1 1/2 hours until bedtime.

Mission Control said the heightened threat might continue for another couple days and continue to interrupt the astronauts’ science research and other work. Four of the seven crew members arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday night.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who’s midway through a yearlong mission, called it “a crazy but well-coordinated day” as he bid Mission Control good night.

“It was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off with our very first work day in space,” he said.

The Space Command said it was working with NASA and the State Department. NASA had made no comment by early afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Space Agency said via Twitter that the astronauts were ordered into their docked capsules, in case they had to make a quick getaway. Later, the crew was “routinely performing operations,” the agency noted.

“Friends, everything is regular with us!” tweeted the space station’s commander, Russian Anton Shkaplerov.

But the cloud of debris seemed to pose a threat on each passing orbit — or every 1 1/2 hours. German astronaut Matthias Maurer was told to move his sleeping bag from the European lab to a safer location for the night.

The space station is currently home to four Americans, one German and two Russians.

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