Astronauts in narrow escape as space junk zooms by

An unidentified piece of debris narrowly missed the International Space Station on Tuesday in a rare incident that forced the six-member crew to scramble to their rescue craft.

The piece of space junk missed the fragile orbiter by just 250m, the Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Russian space industry as saying.

“The crew has been told that the space debris has missed the station and that they can leave their Soyuz (rescue) craft,” the Russian official said.

A spokesperson at Russian mission control outside Moscow said the incident occurred at around 4.30 pm (12.30pm GMT) and that the crew was now “working according to their normal schedule”, the Russian International News Agency reported.

Another Russian space official said by telephone that such incidents had occurred in the past and did not represent an emergency.

“This is not an emergency operation. They have standing instructions to that effect,” the spokesperson said.

Space officials said the crew knew what to do if the orbiter could not be manoeuvred out of the way in time.

Three crew members were forced to briefly evacuate the ISS in an incident reported by international media in March 2009.

The ISS is currently manned by three Russians and two Americans as well as a Japanese astronaut.

The station was built up from the first module launched by Russia in 1998 and is now orbiting 350km from Earth. — AFP

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