Astronauts Avoid Debris Collision During Journey To ISS Onboard SpaceX Dragon
Astronauts on board SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft currently on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) were successfully able to avoid collision with a piece of space debris during their journey as part of NASA's Crew-2 mission. The nature of the debris is unknown and SpaceX mission control told the crew to put their spacesuits on and prepare for a potential anomaly out of an "abundance of caution," as described by NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshire.
Debris Risk Causes Astronauts To Prepare For Emergency By Donning Spacesuits
At roughly 13:27 EDT, mission control in SpaceX informed the astronauts that they had to prepare for a possible "conjunction," referring to a collision with a piece of space debris. SpaceX's crew operations resource engineer Sara Gillis, responsible for communicating with the crew during their coast to the ISS, informed the crew to wear their suits again and close the visors. Before this, the crew had taken off their suits as they prepared to sleep at 14:00 EDT according to their original schedule.
To prepare the astronauts for the possible event, Gillis informed the crew that:
For awareness, we have identified a late breaking possible conjunction with a fairly close miss distance to Dragon. As such, we do need you to immediately proceed with suit donning, securing yourself in seats. We will be erring on the side of caution to get you guys in a better configuration. The time of closest approach for this event is at 17:43[GMT].
The request was a precautionary measure as SpaceX did not plan to maneuver the Dragon spacecraft during the event. While the Crew Dragon is designed to be fully autonomous during its journey, astronauts on board can manually take control of the spacecraft. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley tested the manual control capability as part of their Dragon DM-2 mission to the ISS last year.
At 13:42, the astronauts had put their suits on, placed their visors down and secured themselves to their seats. SpaceX had requested them to put the suits on to pressurize the suits in case of an emergency.
Roughly 20 seconds before the closest approach, Gillis informed the crew that the distance of the object from Dragon was further than originally anticipated. However, she still advised them to suit up and put their visors down.
Soon afterward, the spacecraft successfully avoided collision as it passed the time of closest approach (TCA). This was confirmed when Gillis informed the crew that:
Gillis: Dragon, SpaceX. We have passed TCA with no impact.
NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur: Sara I think you said we passed the object. Is that correct?
Gillis: Affirm Megan. And at this time, we can go to proceed to deconfigure from suited configuration.
McArthur: Copy that Sara, we will proceed with suit doffing.
Following this, Cheshire confirmed that:
...the crew were instructed to put their suits back on and lower the visors on their suits and as well as make sure that they were zipped. This all was done out of an over-abundance of caution. The crew were in their seats. As time of closest approach has passed, we will continue to track that debris to see if there's any chance it may show up on the radar again. We're also working to find out more information on exactly what that piece of debris might have been."
The Crew Dragon is expected to reach the ISS' vicinity at 02:10 EDT and dock with the station at 05:10. Its crew will enter the space station roughly two hours later, with their sleep schedule being pushed forward by 11 minutes due to the debris. In addition to Kimbrough and McArthur, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are also on their way to the orbiting space laboratory.
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