Stories tagged space junk

Mar
13
2009

A view of the ISS from above: This full view of the International Space Station was photographed from the Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-114 Return to Flight mission, following the undocking of the two spacecraft.
A view of the ISS from above: This full view of the International Space Station was photographed from the Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-114 Return to Flight mission, following the undocking of the two spacecraft.Courtesy NASA
The three crew members of the International Space Station were forced to take cover inside a Soyuz escape vehicle for about 10 minutes yesterday when a 5 inch chunk of space junk came too close to the space station. The space junk was spotted (how do you spot something that small in space?) too late to move the space station to safety.

This is the sixth time that the crew of the ISS has had to take cover in the Soyuz escape vehicle due to nearby space debris. You may not think a 5 inch chunk of space junk would be all that big of a deal, but remember, that stuff is orbiting the Earth at crazy speeds - 17,500 miles and hour and faster. When something hits you traveling that fast it will do some significant damage.

If you are interested in the International Space Station, there are a ton of cool things on line about it, including live video and audio feeds.

Nov
20
2008

You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.
You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.Courtesy NASA
***Apparently MDR already wrote this post a few days ago. Either he and I are just on the same wavelength here, or I totally copied him without realizing it. Er... oops.***

In space, no one can hear you say G%#@&^$ [email protected]&%&!#^@&!

Remember the modifications planned for the International Space Station that would allow resident astronauts to drink their own pee (among other things)? Well, early this week, visiting astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor were actually doing that work (among other work) on the ISS. Things went pretty smoothly, over all, except that one of the astronauts dropped her tools. Outside of the station. In space.

Whoops.

Normally this isn’t a big deal, of course. It is estimated that working people across the country spend as much as 30% of their time dropping tools of one variety or another. (It’s only 9:40, and I’ve already dropped a video camera, a laptop computer, and my toothbrush—all in the toilet! How did that happen?) In space, however, things are a little different. It’s not exactly like a Loony Toons situation, where the space tools would fall to Earth in a deadly rain of super-sonic, flaming wrenches—the ISS is in orbit, and so the dropped tools stayed in orbit. That means that the astronaut’s two grease guns, putty knife, and briefcase-sized tool bag have all become space junk.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting  solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.Courtesy NASA

“Space junk” is a term for the growing cloud of man-made debris orbiting our planet—everything from flecks of shuttle paint, to spent rocket stages, to grease guns, putty knives, and tool bags. Items like these may sound pretty innocuous, but a grease gun traveling at a few thousand miles an hour is really dangerous. Space debris is so dangerous, in fact, that the ISS is now armored to help protect it from orbiting junk, and that the a planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis in October, 2008, had a 1 in 185 chance of “catastrophic impact” with debris.

Whoops.

NASA technicians are scrambling to develop new methods of scrubbing the swearwords out of the astronaut’s space suit, but they remain cautiously optimistic that the equipment will eventually be reusable.