Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Houston, Do We Have A Problem?

History was made yesterday about 390km above us.
The space shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station (ISS), for the 46th docking by a space shuttle to a space station, and also the final docking in space shuttle history. Atlantis is retiring after this, the last flight of the 30yr. shuttle programme.
But within hours of the happy-sad event came news that NASA was eyeballing a piece of space junk that could come dangerously close to the orbiting action tomorrow (Wednesday 13th, NZ time)!
NASA says the potential wrecking ball is part of Cosmos 375, a satellite launched in 1970 by the Soviet Union (cue: *boo!*hiss!*), and which collided with another satellite and broke apart. Details of its size and exact trajectory are unknown - but it's travelling at 6.58km per second, so ya wouldn't wanna be in its way! Houston is still calculating if the object poses a major threat, but has the option of moving the ISS out of danger. The debris could be on a collision course with the station at around 4am Wednesday (NZ time), the
same time two US astronauts are meant to being steppin' out for “walkies”.
After this shuttle flight, NASA’s getting out of the launching-to-orbit business, retiring its shuttles to museums, so it can start working on manned trips to Mars and beyond. Private companies will do the space station delivery runs and, still several years away, astronaut ferry flights.
That's assuming a hefty chunk of rusty Russki wreck doesn’t gatecrash the party first!
PS: 13 July 2011 - No problems: turns out the docking actually pushed the module out of danger...phew!

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