The International Space Station (ISS) has been forced to fire the thrusters of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) in order to maneuver the station and its crew out of the way of potentially harmful debris. Such instances are rare, making a catastrophic scenario highly unlikely. However, with each passing year, the amount of orbital debris increases, heightening the risks of a collision for mankind’s only manned outpost among the stars.
The International Space Station (ISS) isn’t designed to move around on its own, which presents a problem when a bit of space debris is threatening to smack into the station. That’s exactly what happened a few days ago, but the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) happened to be docked at the station with enough fuel to save the day. Even small objects can be extremely dangerous in orbit. Even a paint chip can cause damage to a spacecraft when it impacts traveling at almost 30,000 km/h. It’s enough of a problem that astronauts aboard the ISS have emergency protocols to follow when space junk threatens the station. These objects can be almost anything — parts from rocket engines, screws from derelict satellites, or even tools lost by astronauts. They’re all moving very fast and are very dangerous. Scary stuff.