Defunct Russian satellite shatters to pieces, forcing American astronauts to take shelter in Boeing Starliner

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station settled into their “lifeboat vehicles” and prepared for an emergency evacuation after a defunct Russian satellite shattered into pieces, potentially sending dangerous debris speeding around Earth, according to LiveScience.

The nine crew members on the ISS, including the Boeing Starliner’s Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, were forced to take cover for around an hour Friday evening. The astronauts took the precautionary measure after the Resurs-P1 Russian Earth observation satellite broke into pieces, sending more than 100 pieces of debris spinning around the space station.

‘Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time.’

Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said “[w]e used Starliner for that safe haven capability,” adding that “[The astronauts] got in the spacecraft, powered the vehicle up, closed the hatch and were ready to execute … an emergency unlocking (from the ISS) and landing.”

Fox News Digital reported that Starliner’s launch on June 5 was the first manned expedition Boeing had carried out to the ISS since 2014, when NASA and Boeing agreed to a $4.2 billion public-private partnership.

The Starliner reportedly experienced helium leaks in the propulsion system, along with faulty thrusters. What was supposed to be a short trip to the ISS for the astronauts has now turned into an indefinite stay in space. Despite the unusual situation, Stich insisted that the astronauts “are not stranded in space,” according to Phys.org.

Starliner is currently docked at the ISS as engineers attempt to find a solution to the issues. Boeing stated that the helium leaks “are all stable and not a concern for a return mission,” noting that the five thrusters that were shut down are now “operating normally,” according to reports.

“Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time,” Stich said. However, no timeline for their return has yet been announced.

The ISS X account published a statement Wednesday evening, which said: “Shortly after 9 p.m. EDT, @NASA instructed crews aboard the space station to shelter in their respective spacecraft as a standard precautionary measure after it was informed of a satellite break-up at an altitude near the station’s earlier Wednesday. Mission Control continued to monitor the path of the debris, and after about an hour, the crew was cleared to exit their spacecraft and the station resumed normal operations.”

While the astronauts remain at the ISS, they must remain aware of space junk that routinely orbits above Earth. LiveScience reported that such space junk is a growing and persistent problem for astronauts and satellites. Space agencies regularly monitor more than 30,000 pieces of junk flittering above Earth, but there are many other pieces of debris that are too small to identify.

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