Space station astronauts take emergency shelter from hurtling space junk

A piece of swiftly moving space junk forced the three astronauts aboard the International Space Station to seek emergency shelter for about an hour today.

Piece from old Russian weather satellite forces crew to prepare for hasty getaway

Normally, NASA learns about space junk that might collide with the space station early enough to move it out of the way. But there wasn't time for that Thursday. (NASA)

A piece of space junk forced the three astronauts aboard the International Space Station to seek emergency shelter Thursday.

For about an hour, the American and two Russians had to hunker down in their Soyuz spacecraft, which is docked to the International Space Station, in case they had to make a quick getaway. The fragment from an old Russian weather satellite ended up passing harmlessly, about 2.4 kilometres away.

It's only the fourth time in the 16-year history of the space station that a crew has had to rush into a Soyuz for protection from potentially dangerous debris.

Normally, NASA learns about incoming junk sooner, and the space station moves out of the way. But there wasn't time for that Thursday; the crew was notified just 1½ hours in advance.

NASA's space station operations have had a number of setbacks recently, with three resupply missions to bring cargo to the orbiting outpost ending in failure within the last year.

The next manned launch to the International Space Station is scheduled for Wednesday, when crew members from the U.S., Russia and Japan are set to blast off in a Russian Soyuz capsule and join three colleagues already in orbit.