Space debris forces station crew to take shelter in Soyuz capsules

CBS News

The six-man crew of the International Space Station split up and briefly took shelter inside two three-seat Russian Soyuz re-entry vehicles early Saturday as a piece of space junk whizzed past the lab complex at some 5 miles per second.

Radar tracking indicated the debris, which NASA officials said came from an old Russian Cosmos satellite, might pass within some 6.8 to 8.7 miles of the lab complex at 2:38 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) Saturday. Given tracking uncertainties and the extreme velocities involved, flight controllers woke the crew a half hour early and told them to "shelter in place" aboard the Soyuz spacecraft until the debris had safely passed.

As it turned out, there were no problems.

"The green light has been given for the crew to back out of their sheltering procedures and to begin the process of reopening the hatches with the piece of Cosmos satellite debris having come and gone with no threat to the International Space Station," said Rob Navias, NASA's mission control commentator. "So the sheltering exercise has been completed. … Everything went by the book and as expected, the small piece of Cosmos satellite debris passed the International Space Station without incident."