International Space Station crew members were forced to flee to the outpost's escape capsule briefly on Thursday when a rogue piece of space junk came too close for comfort.
The debris, a discarded mechanism used in boosting a satellite into higher orbit, missed the ISS without incident. The three astronauts took shelter for 11 minutes inside an attached Russian Soyuz module, which serves as the station's lifeboat if needed.
NASA usually steers the ISS clear of space junk, but this time the warning came too late for evasive maneuvers. The debris was classified on Wednesday as posing a low threat of collision with the space station. But refined numbers late Thursday morning placed the object as passing within 2.8 miles of the space station.
The 5-inch chunk of metal is estimated to have passed by the station at nearly 5.5 miles per second (20,000mph).
Crew members were instructed to put the station into unmanned mode and evacuate into the Soyuz capsule at 12:34pm EST. The space debris passed by without collision at 12:39pm.
The station has had to dodge space junk eight times in the eight years the station has been in operation. Crew members have sheltered from debris in a Soyaz as many as five times in the past, NASA said.
The agency said the incident is unrelated to the defunct Russian military satellite colliding with an Iridium telecom satellite in February — although that's certainly going to add to the approximate 17,000 known pieces of orbiting debris larger than 10cm that the ISS will need to dodge in the future. ®