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Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

Space shuttle moves to avoid space junk

March 23, 2009

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— Confronted with orbiting junk again, NASA ordered the astronauts aboard the linked space station and shuttle Discovery to move out of the way of a piece of debris Sunday.

Discovery’s pilots fired their ship’s thrusters to reorient the two spacecraft and thereby avoid a small piece from a 10-year-old Chinese satellite rocket motor that was due to pass uncomfortably close during today’s planned spacewalk.

Mission Control said keeping the spacecraft in this position for about three hours — with Discovery’s belly facing forward — would result in a slow, natural drag of about a foot per second, enough to get the complex out of the way of the 4-inch piece of junk.

Space junk has been a recurring problem for the space station, especially recently. Earlier this month, the three space station residents had to take shelter in their emergency getaway capsule when another piece of orbital debris seemed like it might come too close.

And just last week, right before Discovery’s arrival, the space station almost had to dodge yet another piece of junk. The debris — from an old busted-up Soviet satellite — stayed at a safe distance.

The latest episode occurred as NASA scrambled to put together a spacewalking repair plan for a jammed equipment platform at the space station. “That was certainly exciting,” Alibaruho said, chuckling.

On the third and final spacewalk of Discovery’s mission planned for today, astronauts plan to return to an equipment storage shelf that jammed and could not be deployed Saturday. The spacewalkers accidentally had inserted a pin upside down.

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