Debris scare forces astronauts to evacuate space station briefly
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to evacuate to a Soyuz capsule briefly on Thursday as a precaution after a piece of space junk flew dangerously close to the orbiting platform.
NASA said the debris, a spent motor, had cleared the station at 12:39 p.m. ET, allowing U.S. astronauts Sandra Magnus and Michael Finke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov to return to the station at 12:45 p.m. ET.
The three crew members entered the docked Soyuz capsule after NASA determined the debris was within range of a collision. The space agency said news of the close approach of the debris came too late for flight controllers to consider moving the station out of the way.
The issue of what to do with space debris drew worldwide attention in February when a U.S. and a Russian satellite collided in space about 800 kilometres above the Earth, creating thousands of pieces of debris, but the space station wasn't considered threatened because it orbits at a lower altitude of about 320 kilometres.
NASA spokeswoman Laura Rochon said the motor was probably once a part of the space station.
The space station crew is preparing for the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery, which could happen as early as Tuesday if the shuttle launches on Sunday. Discovery is expected to deliver the station's fourth and final set of solar panels.