ISS Operations 'Return to Normal' Following Scare From Russian Space Debris

NASA announced Wednesday that the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) had resumed its normal duties following a significant risk of impact from Russian space debris.

In a statement, NASA announced the agency and U.S. Space Command were continuing to monitor the debris cloud, but deemed the ISS crew members were safe.

The debris field in question arose from an anti-satellite missile test conducted by Russia that went awry Monday. The missile ended up smashing into a Russian satellite, and Space Command said that the impact created "more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and will likely generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris," and could "continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come."

After the incident, the crew members of the ISS were woken by ground crew and ordered to close a number of hatches aboard the station, including hatches separating the U.S. and Russian sections of the vehicle.

Following this, the American and Russian crew members were ushered into the Dragon and Soyuz spacecraft, respectively, in order to wait out the most dangerous period of debris. This only lasted for two hours, however, before the high-risk period ended.

The crew has since been told to resume normal operations, and all of the previously closed hatches aboard the ISS have been reopened, NASA said. The agency stated that the likelihood of a debris strike at this point is slim, as the greatest risk was during the immediate 24 hours following the missile launch.

International Space Station And Earth
NASA has stated that the crew members of the International Space Station have resumed their normal activities following a scare from Russian-based satellite debris. iStock/Getty

Despite seemingly being out of the woods, scientists continue to closely monitor the debris field for any signs that it could impact the ISS. However, if this were to occur, there are a number of contingencies in place.

"If orbital debris were to strike the station and cause an air leak, the crew would close hatches to the affected module," NASA stated. "If crew members do not have time to close the affected module, they would enter their respective spacecraft and, if necessary, undock from the space station to return to Earth."

The agency stated that it will also continue to perform visual inspections of the ISS to ensure hull integrity.

Launched in 1998, the ISS was built as a collaborative effort between a number of countries to conduct experiments in outer space. Beyond acting as a space-bound laboratory, the station also serves as living quarters for the astronauts.

There are currently five participating space agencies in the ISS program: NASA, Russia's Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, Japan's JAXA, and Canada's CSA.

At the moment, there are only NASA, ESA, and Roscosmos astronauts aboard the ISS. However, explorers from 19 countries have journeyed to the station since its opening.

This includes astronauts from Brazil, the U.K., South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and others.

However, one of the founding partners of the station may be leaving in the next few years, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that his country might withdraw from the ISS after 2025. This is reportedly due to concerns among Russian officials over the station's capabilities and condition.

Newsweek has reached out to U.S. Space Command for comment.