CAP CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – SpaceX’s four astronauts had barely settled into orbit last Friday when they were ordered to return to their spacesuits due to a potential collision with debris in orbit.
It turns out that there was no object or threat, the US Space Command acknowledged on Monday. The false alarm is being investigated.
Lt. Col. Erin Dick, a spokesperson for Space Command, said it was believed at the time that an object would come close to the newly launched SpaceX capsule carrying a crew to the International Space Station.
âHowever, we quickly realized that this was a reporting error,â she wrote in an email, âand that there had never been a threat of collision as no object was not likely to collide with the capsule. “
She declined to comment further, saying more information should be available later this week once they figure out what happened.
Astronauts are usually given fairly long notice of any nearby calls, with enough time to even avoid disturbing them, if necessary. Friday’s situation, however, came quickly – the astronauts got barely half an hour of warning.
Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron alerted NASA about 45 minutes before the potential conjunction, according to officials at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. SpaceX and NASA warned the astronauts 15 minutes later, urging them to immediately put on their suits and lower the visor of their helmets. At that time, there was not enough time to change the path of the capsule. The drama took place live on NASA TV.
American, French and Japanese astronauts had practiced it several times before the flight, according to NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.
“Of course, we are always happy to hear that there has never been a threat, but we are also happy that the procedures are in place and that the crew would have been ready if the threat had been real”, did he declare.
The Dragon capsule and its crew reached the space station safely on Saturday, with no further surprises. New arrivals will spend six months there.
Based at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the 18th Space Control Squadron tracks more than 32,000 objects in orbit, mostly satellites and missing rocket parts. Some are as small as 4 inches (10 diameters). Even something this little can cause great damage to a high speed spacecraft. The space station is particularly vulnerable due to its sprawling size.
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