Moving the astronauts to their spaceships is the standard precautionary measure for such circumstances.

View of the Earth from the International Space Station. (Image Credit: Alexander Grebenkin/Roscosmos).

New Delhi: A defunct and decommissioned Russian satellite, RESURS-P1 disintegrated in Earth orbit on 26 June, resulting in over a 100 pieces of space debris that could be tracked, an event which was tracked by the US Space Command. NASA instructed the crew on board to shelter in the spaceships that brought them to the orbital platform. The astronauts remained in their spaceships for about an hour, before they could resume normal operations. The satellite disintegrated at around the same altitude as the International Space Station.

The International Space Station is among the most heavily shielded spacecraft to ever exist, and critical elements such as the high pressure tanks and the habitable compartments can withstand direct impacts of space debris up to a centimetre in diameter. The US Space Surveillance Network provides situational information to the operations of the ISS, and it normally manoeuvres away from debris, if there is a greater than one in 10,000 chance of a collision.

What about the astronauts on the Boeing Crew Flight Test?

Sunita Williams, the pilot on the Boeing Starliner and Barry Wilmore, the commander of the mission are both veteran astronauts who have spent over 500 days in space, and know the space station inside-out. They are helping out with maintainance activities on the ISS, apart from conducting science experiments. The two astronauts replaced the cameras and carbon dioxide sensors in an experimental plant habitat, which grows small crops such as lettuce and tomatoes for biological research in microgravity, as well as sandwiches for the astronauts.

Orbital Plumbing

Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore also prepared a rebuilt pressure control and pump assembly motor, for installation in the bathroom of the Tranquility module. The pressure control and pump assembly module is busted, and the two astronauts had worked on removing the failed one and replacing the module in the waste and hygiene compartment of the Tranquility module. The two astronauts had earlier worked on the plumbing in the Harmony module.

What is the Boeing Starliner up to?

The Boeing team is taking its time understanding as much as it can about the Service Module, which has the propulsion system, and houses the thrusters that did not function nominally, as well as a busted valve and multiple leaks in the helium tanks. This Service Module will be jettisoned shortly before reentry, and will not return to the Earth. This is why, the ground teams are trying to learn as much as they can about the Service Module, while it still exists. The Boeing Starliner can remained docked for up to 72 days while relaying on backup systems.



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