CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Russian weapons test created more than 1,500 pieces of space junk that is now threatening the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station, U.S. officials said Monday.
The State Department confirmed that the debris was from an old Russian satellite destroyed by a missile strike.
“It was dangerous. It was reckless. It was irresponsible,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Earlier Monday, the four Americans, one German and two Russians on board were forced to briefly seek shelter in their docked capsules because of the debris.
At least 1,500 pieces of the destroyed satellite were sizable enough to show up on radar and with telescopes, Price said. But countless other fragments were too small to track, yet still posed a danger to the space station as well as orbiting satellites.
Even a fleck of paint can do major damage when orbiting at 17,500 mph. Something big, upon impact, could be catastrophic.
“We are going to continue to make very clear that we won’t tolerate this kind of activity,” Price said.
He said the U.S. has “repeatedly raised with Russian counterparts our concerns for a potential satellite test”.
NASA Mission Control said the heightened threat from the debris might continue for another couple of days and continue to interrupt the astronauts’ science research and other work. Four of the seven crew members arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday night.
The U.S. Space Command said it was tracking the field of orbiting debris. NASA had made no comment by late afternoon, and there was no word late Monday from Russia about the missile strike.
A similar weapons test by China in 2007 also resulted in countless debris. One of those pieces threatened to come dangerously close to the space station last week. While it later was dismissed as a risk, NASA had the station move anyway.
Anti-satellite missile tests by the U.S. in 2008 and India in 2019 were conducted at much lower altitudes, well below the space station.