The inhabitant of International Space Station (ISS), Samantha Cristoforettihas been talking about the threat that space debris poses to the orbital outpost.
With the ISS orbiting the Earth at over 17,000 mph, and with plenty of space junk doing the same, there is certainly a risk of a calamity of sorts. Gravityalthough fortunately during the 20-year history of the station a serious event has not yet occurred.
In a video shared with half a million TikTok followers and a million Twitter fans, Italian astronaut Cristoforetti explained this week that much of the station’s exterior is covered with panels that serve as shields that protect the ISS from micrometeorites and debris. small pieces of space debris, while the rest comprises super-strong windows of fused silica and borosilicate glass.
— Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) September 8, 2022
Cristoforetti, who arrived at the space station in April for a six-month stay, said that if a small object breached the ISS defenses, it would likely cause a leak, resulting in a flow of air from the station into space. The pressure loss could happen so slowly that astronauts wouldn’t even notice it at first. That’s why the station includes a rapid depressurization emergency alarm.
Upon detecting a potentially dangerous pressure drop, the alarm would alert the crew to the situation. Research astronauts can use different tools to try to locate the leak before fixing it.
“If that doesn’t work, maybe because the leak is so small and therefore the airflow is so weak, we start closing the hatches, module by module,” Cristoforetti explains in the video. “Once a hatch is closed, you can check the pressure using a portable pressure gauge. If the pressure stabilizes, you have determined that the leak was on the other side of the hatch. [cerrada]».
Such an incident occurred in 2020 when the astronauts had trouble finding the source of a small leak on the station. After searching for more than a month, the leak was discovered inside Russia’s Zvezda service module.
While Cristoforetti is mostly talking about small bits floating through space, there are also some pretty big pieces of space debris orbiting Earth. These old rocket parts or decommissioned satellites pose a much greater risk to the ISS. Fortunately, there are teams on the ground monitoring such dangers, and if a piece is detected heading towards the station, it is instructed to raise or lower its orbit to avoid a potentially disastrous collision.
Occasionally, however, there is little time to take evasive action. Last year, for example, ISS astronauts were ordered to take shelter inside the station’s docked spacecraft when a cloud of debris got dangerously close. On that occasion, the ISS escaped damage, but the event was a reminder of the kind of risks astronauts take when traveling in space.