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Astronauts evacuate the International Space Station during space debris close-call

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The International Space Station

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had to evacuate its premises over the weekend to escape what could've been a fatal disaster — a piece of space debris passed too close to the satellite for comfort. NASA usually maneuvers the ISS out of the way whenever there's passing debris, but this time, the orbiting rubble was spotted too late.

The six astronauts took shelter inside Russian Soyuz capsules because the ISS was in danger of getting struck by the rubble and losing pressure and oxygen. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and the $100 billion space station wasn't damaged. NASA identified the passing debris as a fragment from the Russian satellite Cosmos 2251 that smashed into another spacecraft in 2009.

The fragment's size and exact distance from the space station when it passed remain unknown. But NASA scientists estimate that it was around 6.8 to 8.7 miles away from the ISS during the time of its closest approach at 2:38 A.M. Eastern on March 24.

Approximately 20,000 pieces of smashed satellites and spacecraft orbit the Earth at great speeds. These softball-sized fragments can cause some serious damage, which is why NASA and the U.S. military have been looking for ways to track them better and to eliminate them altogether.

[Image credit: Wikimedia]

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This article was written by Mariella Moon and originally appeared on Tecca

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