Russia Denies Endangering Astronauts With Weapons Test, Says U.S. Is Being Hypocritical

Russia is denying that they intentionally endangered astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

The country recently conducted a weapons test on an old satellite that allegedly caused more than 1,500 pieces of junk to enter space. U.S. officials said that Russia intentionally conducted the strike toward the satellite as it was near the International Space Station, which the Associated Press reports is currently orbiting at 17,500 miles per hour.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that Russia "despite its claims of opposing the weaponization of outer space, is willing to…imperil the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behavior."

However, Russia is fighting back against these allegations as its space agency Roscosmos promises that the "unconditional safety of the crew has been and remains" their top priority. The country's Defense Ministry confirmed that the strike did occur, but claimed that the U.S. knew that it would not cause any significant harm to the nearby space station.

"The U.S. knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities," said Russian officials to reporters. They also called the comments by Blinken "hypocritical," with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu saying that the test was carried "with surgical precision."

Although Russia is denying any wrongdoing during its test, the NATO says otherwise.

"This was a reckless act by Russia to actually shoot down and destroy a satellite as part of a test of an anti-satellite weapon system," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to reporters, who also speculated that the country could be manufacturing new systems that pose further harm to satellites.

The White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said that Russia demonstrated "complete disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations. This debris will continue to pose a direct threat to activities in outer space for years to come and puts at risk satellites all nations rely on for national security, economic prosperity and scientific discovery."

Bates continued, saying that the Biden administration would work with its allies "as we seek to respond to this irresponsible act."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Space Junk
The U.S. Space Command says it's tracking a field of orbiting debris, the apparent result of a satellite break-up event. Russia recently conducted a weapons test on an old satellite that allegedly caused more than 1,500 pieces of junk to enter space. Above, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking on April 24. NASA via AP, File

Astronauts now face four times greater risk than normal, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the Associated Press.

Roscosmos wouldn't confirm or deny that the strike took place in a vague online statement released Tuesday.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also charged that it is "hypocrisy" to say that Russia creates risks for peaceful activities in space.

Once the situation became clear early Monday morning, the four Americans, one German and two Russians on board the International Space Station were ordered to immediately seek shelter in their docked capsules. They spent two hours in the two capsules, finally emerging only to have to close and reopen hatches to the station's individuals labs on every orbit, or 1-1/2 hours, as they passed near or through the debris.

NASA Mission Control said the heightened threat could continue to interrupt the astronauts' science research and other work. Four of the seven crew members only arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday night.

A similar weapons test by China in 2007 also resulted in many pieces of debris. One of those threatened to come dangerously close to the space station last week. While it later was dismissed as a risk, NASA had the station move anyway.

Anti-satellite missile tests by the U.S. in 2008 and India in 2019 were conducted at much lower altitudes, well below the space station at about 260 miles.

Update 11/16/2021 4:25 p.m.: This story as been updated with response from White House spokesperson Andrew Bates.

Crew 3 to ISS
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that a weapons test did occur, but it claimed that the U.S. knew that it would not cause any significant harm to the International Space Station. Above, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off with four astronauts on board from the Kennedy Space Center on November 10, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images