The International Space Station program's top safety priority should be cutting impact risks from micrometoroids and space junk but its overall safety and crew health measures are solid, a panel says.
Those are the International Space Station Independent Safety Task Force's findings in its final report to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Congress,issued Tuesday.
The panel, charged with finding hazards that could harm the crew, force early abandonment of the space station or result in its destruction, found the ISS program is largely a good one.
"The International Space Station Program is currently a robust and sound program with respect to safety and crew health," the report stated, noting that the team responsible for it is experienced, knowledgeable and progressive.
However, the orbiting platform is highly vulnerable to micrometeroids and space junk.
"Micrometeoroid and orbital debris penetrating the living quarters or damaging critical equipment is a high safety risk to the crew and the station," the panel stated.
The risk posed should the space station crew suddenly fall ill and have to temporarily abandon the station, as well as extreme specialization in roles and the ability to replace highly skilled workers are also concerns, the task force said.
To address those concerns, the panel recommended: "The International Space Station Program should place the highest priority on options to decrease the risk of micrometeoroid and orbital debris."
They also urged NASA to put plans into action to ensure it has enough workers with essential skills and experienced managers to maintain the program without interruption.
The panel noted that the potential for sudden illness to force space station crew to temporarily abandon it will always remain, as it does for all human space flight.