The six-member crew of the International Space Station took shelter in two Russian Soyuz spacecraft early Tuesday because of a predicted close approach by an unknown piece of space debris.
Safety procedures are put into effect when radar tracking indicates debris could pass within an imaginary box around the space station that takes into account tracking errors to provide a margin of safety. "Sheltering in place" aboard the Soyuz crew ferry craft is required when notification of a possible debris "conjunction" occurs too late to orchestrate a space station maneuver to get out of the way.
Station commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Ronald Garan took shelter aboard the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft docked to the Poisk module. Sergei Volkov, Michael Fossum and Furukawa sheltered aboard the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module.
The size and source of the debris were not immediately known.
Space debris is an ongoing concern for space station crews because of the extreme velocities of objects in low-Earth orbit - about five miles per second. (SpaceFlightNow)
The unidentified space junk missed the fragile craft by just 250 metres, a Russian space industry source told the Interfax news agency. The six astronauts on board the station had to take refuge in their rescue vehicles because it was moving at such speed they had no time to take evasive action.
The crewmen had to spend around half an hour in the Soyuz escape capsules before the debris passed safely. Monitors work constantly to track any space junk that could pose a risk and engineers usually adjust the station's orbit to reduce the chance of a collision. When it is too late to adjust its position, the crew is ordered to board the capsules.
Their rescue vehicles are capable of undocking from the main station and returned to Earth if there is a serious collision. The crew is currently manned by three Russians, Sergey Volkov, Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutayev, two Americans Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr and Satoshi Furukawa from Japan. (SkyNews)