Space Station 'nauts dive for cover from flying Soviet junk

All clear after close encounter of the Soviet kind

The International Space Station's crew sought refuge in the orbiting science lab's lifeboat on Thursday after NASA warned the habitat could be hit by flying satellite debris.

Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly crammed themselves into the Soyuz podule that's attached to the ISS as an escape capsule, and battened down the hatches as the debris whizzed past the station at about 0500 PDT (1300 UTC).

"The crew of the International Space Station is resuming normal operations after getting an all clear from Mission Control following a close pass by space debris this morning at 7:01 a.m. CDT," NASA said in a statement.

"All station systems are operating normally and the crew will move out of the Soyuz spacecraft in which they stayed during the debris pass. This was the fourth time in the history of station operations that the crew has moved to the Soyuz due to a potential close pass of debris."

The ISS does have the ability to maneuver out of the way of orbital debris using its thrusters, but it's an expensive process – including delivery charges the fuel costs nearly $10,000 per pound. Such orbital changes also take time, and in this case there just wasn't enough warning.

"The data on the possible close pass was received too late and was not sufficiently precise enough for the station to take any evasive maneuver," NASA spokesman James Hartsfield told AFP. "In those cases, the crew can be called to put the station in a safe configuration and move to the Soyuz until the debris has passed."

The debris this time came from a very old Russian satellite. Interfax reports it was a chunk of Meteor-2, a weather satellite lofted by the Soviets in 1979 from Plesetsk cosmodrome. ®

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