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Russian Space Debris Forces NASA to Postpone ISS Spacewalk

Space junk put a kink in NASA's plans.

NASA/ESA/Thomas Pesquet

NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada were all set to head outside of the International Space Station on Wednesday to install new rollout solar arrays to upgrade the station's power system. They got dressed in spacesuits, then they got undressed. A piece of space junk forced NASA to postpone the spacewalk. 

The ISS conducted a Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver on Wednesday to steer clear of a fragment of a Fregat-SB upper stage, part of a Russian rocket system that has been used to launch satellites. "The crew was never in any immediate danger," NASA emphasized in a statement.

NASA public affairs lead Daniel Huot gave a livestreamed update on the debris situation. NASA made the call to maneuver the station using the thrusters of a docked Russian Progress cargo spacecraft. The thrusters fired for over 10 minutes "to provide the complex an extra measure of distance away from the predicted track of the debris."   

The debris had been under scrutiny for a couple of days, but updated tracking information showed it was coming too close for comfort, within a quarter mile of the ISS. It's been a challenging week for the ISS after a docked Soyuz spacecraft sprung a dramatic coolant leak, possibly as the result of a hit from a tiny meteorite. 

The ISS had to avoid a different piece of Russian space debris in October. Dodging junk has become a too-common occurrence as pieces of rockets, defunct satellites and other bits and bobs clog up the orbital space around Earth. 

The rescheduled spacewalk could take place as early as Thursday.