Debris From China's 2007 Anti-Satellite Missile Test Makes Close ISS Flyby

ISS astronauts took standard safety precautions for a run-in with orbital space junk, but NASA says debris is at a safe distance, however

International Space Station, Feb. 2010

NASA

Bits of Chinese space junk are flying near the International Space Station, and the astronauts on board are prepared to take cover. While space junk threats to the station are nothing new, this one is unique -- the debris in question comes from a Chinese weather satellite that the Chinese military used for target practice in an anti-satellite missile demonstration three years ago.

International officials complained at the time that destroying the satellite could endanger the station or other objects. It also sparked alarm from security experts. Yet that didn't stop the U.S. military from flexing its own anti-satellite muscles just a year later, when one of our own disabled satellites was destroyed in orbit by a missile.

If calculations show the debris approaching the station at close range, the six astronauts onboard will seek shelter in the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft that are docked with the station, AFP reports.

The news agency says an official at mission control outside Moscow described the flight path of the debris as "dangerous," and said it was already too late to move the station.

But NASA officials downplayed the risk, saying the debris is at a safe distance.

Foreign Policy magazine reported this week that China shot down a second satellite back in January, around the same time as a successful missile-intercept test.