Russians Endangered the ISS Three Times This Year, And They Don’t Even Seem Bothered

The International Space Station (ISS) has been up in orbit ever since 1998, when the first module was transported there. In 2000, the first humans arrived, as part of the Expedition 1 mission. 21 years later, we’re at Expedition 66, hundreds of people and tens of ships have been up there, and the place was not once in any severe danger. Until now.
Spacesuits sitting idle on the ISS 11 photos
Photo: NASA
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2021 will go down in history as an important year for space exploration. Maybe not crucial, but important, in the sense that humanity laid the foundations for the future now: the SpaceX Starship prototypes finally flew and landed successfully, the SLS and Orion are assembled and ready to roll onto the pad, and not one, but three space companies flew civilians beyond the Karman line.

On the downside, 2021 will go down in history as the year the ISS could have fallen out of the sky, three times. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a hard term, but it definitely experienced more problems than ever before. And three of the biggest have been caused by the Russians.

You see, the ISS is jointly-operated by space organizations of several countries. We have the American NASA, the European ESA, Canadian CSA, the Japanese JAXA, and the Russian Roscosmos.

Regardless of what happened between these nations and agencies on the ground, there has always been peace and serenity up there in space. That happened because the parties involved have always valued more the integrity of the station and the experiments being conducted there above all else, and no one really endangered the hardware and the people in any way.

ISS size
Photo: NASA
This year, Russia did exactly that, three times. In all cases, the threats were not intentionally directed at the ISS, but put the station in danger nonetheless.

The first incident occurred July, when an otherwise routine docking between the brand new Nauka Russian module almost went sideways. Because of a software glitch, the module accidentally and briefly fired its thrusters, causing the station to lose attitude control, meaning it lost its orientation and started spinning

The problem lasted for under an hour, but caused quite the problems for mission planners, as it caused the initial delay, and later cancelation, of the Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2.

Then, in October, the Russians struck again, with another accidental firing of thrusters. This time, the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft was involved, and changed the orientation of the space station once more, by as much as 57 degrees. This time, the incident didn’t cause any further problems down on the ground.

ISS mdules
Photo: NASA
Even if one has to admit incidents such as these taking place, over a short period of time, is something unheard of, they can still be labeled as that, just incidents. But then Russia, the culprit for both accidental firing of thrusters, comes and pulls an ASAT test.

ASAT stands for anti-satellite weapons, and are in essence direct-ascent missiles meant to take out hardware up in orbit. To date and to our knowledge, the countries capable of using such weapons never fired them at each other, but used them for target practice on their own satellites.

Russia is the latest to do so, obliterating earlier this week the non-functional Kosmos-1408 from its place among the stars. After the missile hit, the satellite broke up in over 1,500 small, but trackable pieces, and caused alarms to sound like crazy over at the Johnson Space Center.

What the ASAT caused is one of the most serious alerts to have ever been issued for the station. According to NASA, astronauts had to close the radial hatches to the station’s radial modules, and then duck for cover in the available spacecraft, ready to separate if the need arose.

ISS from space
Photo: NASA
The incident might seem serious from afar, but it looks even more so when one hears some of the conversation between the astronauts on board the ISS and Mission Control.

Snippets of the chatter can be heard in the tweet attached below, and we’ll let you listen, but not before telling you astronauts were wondering if they should get into their spacesuits, and even asking for alternatives to return home in case the Crew Dragon spacecraft got hit.

As for Russia, the country seems undisturbed by all these incidents, including this last one, and didn’t even bother releasing a statement on that. Which is particularly strange, even for Russians, given how two of them are on board right now.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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