Satellite space debris forces ISS astronauts to seek shelter aboard docked capsules

The US condemned a Russian missile attack that occurred on the same day. Russia has not acknowledged any wrongdoing.

European Space Agency

On Monday, astronauts on the International Space Station had to seek safety aboard their transport craft when the station passed uncomfortably close to a field of orbital debris. According to the Associated Press, US Space Command started tracking the space junk in the early hours of the morning. The situation saw the station pass the debris field every 90 minutes, forcing those on board to close and reopen several compartments multiple times throughout the day. The four American, one German and two Russian astronauts aboard the ISS will need to stay on alert for the next several days.

"Thanks for a crazy but well-coordinated day, we really appreciated all the situational awareness you gave us," US astronaut Mark Vande Hei told NASA mission control before he and the other crew members aboard went to bed at 12PM EST. "It was certainly a great way to bond as a crew, starting off our very first workday in space." Four of the astronauts arrived at the station late last week.

Neither NASA nor the US government has said what created the debris field that put the ISS in danger. However, later in the day, the US State Department condemned a Russian missile test that destroyed one of the country’s own satellites and created more than 1,500 trackable pieces of orbital debris. “The test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” State Department spokesperson Ned 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.”

The State Department said the US would work with its allies to respond to Russia’s act. Per Reuters, the country has yet to comment on the incident.

Along with their partners, NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency frequently move the International Space Station to avoid incoming space junk. They did that last week when the station was threatened by fragments of a Chinese satellite that was destroyed in a 2007 missile test.

Update (November 15, 2021 at 7:45pm ET): NASA has released the following statement from Administrator Bill Nelson in response to Monday's ASAT trial.

“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety," Nelson said. "Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board."

“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment," he continued. “NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”