Orbiting Debris May Reroute NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-03-16

Multiple launch postponements have plagued the latest space shuttle Discovery mission, but the eight-man spacecraft finally got underway March 15a breakaway piece of a Russian satellite is likely to come close to the ISS on March 17, just one day before the Discovery is scheduled to dock at the orbiting platform. If the debris comes close enough to the ISS, NASA engineers will slightly move the ISS and force Discovery to recalculate its own path to the ISS.

Last week, a piece of a Russian spacecraft motor came close enough to the ISS that the three-man crew was forced to evacuate to the Soyuz TMA-13 capsule, which is attached to the space station to transport astronauts back in an emergency.

Orbital debris is nothing new in space. Wired, which has compiled open government data about space missions, reports that on the 54 shuttle missions so far documented, orbiting debris and meteoroids have hit the space shuttle's windows 1,634 times and the craft's radiator has been smacked 317 times. The impacts have resulted in 92 window replacements.

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