NASA’s Crew-2 mission was warned about a potential collision with an unidentified object around 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 23 as the crew was planning to sleep inside the Dragon Crew Capsule en route to the International Space Station, New York Post reported.
“For awareness, we have identified a late-breaking possible conjunction with a fairly close miss distance to Dragon,” SpaceX’s Sarah Gilles told the astronauts, according to a live video broadcast by NASA and SpaceX. “As such, we do need you to immediately proceed with suit donning and securing yourselves in seats.”
Gilles went on to say that the earliest time of a potential collision was less than 20 minutes away, making it too late to compute and execute a debris avoidance maneuver.
“Copy, Sarah, you want us in the suit for a possible close call,” Crew-2 astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency replied via radio.
About 10 minutes later, pilot Megan McArthur informs Gilles that two of the crew members are “suited and getting seated” and the remaining two “are getting in their suits now.”
Moments later, Gilles informed the crew that the object is further away than anticipated, thus lower the chance of potential conjunction. Gilles later confirmed that the object had passed.
According to a spokesman for the NASA Johnson Space Center, the warning of a potential collision was based on a “false report” and that “there was never a collision threat to the Crew-Dragon.”
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday without any more incident.
Over the years, close calls with space debris have happened several times, with the International Space Station and some NASA shuttles periodically rotating to avoid debris as a safety precaution. The space station is enormous, about the size of a football field, but SpaceX’s Crew Dragon — a space capsule — is only about 27 feet long (8 meters), according to space.com.
Last September, a possible space debris danger forced the space station’s three-person crew to take refuge within the station’s Russian section, allowing them to be closer to their Soyuz spacecraft in case of an impact.
As corporations launch more and more missions into space, including megaconstellations like SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet project, which now has over 1,400 satellites, space debris is becoming a growing concern for astronauts and satellites.
This week, the 8th European Conference on Space Debris was held by the European Space Agency (ESA) to address the issue of space junk. An ESA summary noted that there are currently 128 million objects larger than a millimeter in space, 900,000 objects between 1cm and 10cm, and 34,000 objects bigger than 10cm currently around the Earth.