Cape Canaveral, Florida (AP) — SpaceX’s four astronauts are mostly in orbit when ordered to return to spacesuits last Friday due to possible collisions with orbiting junk. I wasn’t calm.
The US Space Force was found on Monday to be free of objects and threats. False alarms are under consideration.
Lieutenant Colonel Erin Dick, a spokeswoman for Space Command, said it was believed at the time that objects would approach the newly launched SpaceX capsule, which would carry the crew to the International Space Station.
“But I quickly realized that this was a reporting error. There was no threat of collision because there were no objects at risk of colliding with the capsule,” she wrote in an email.
She declined to comment further, saying that additional information should be available later this week once they understand what happened.
Astronauts usually receive a significant amount of advance notice of potential close calls, with sufficient time to avoid getting in the way if necessary. But the situation on Friday soon emerged — just hours after the lift-off.
The Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron immediately warned NASA. SpaceX and NASA then notified the astronauts to put on their suits and lower their helmet visors. The drama was broadcast live on NASA TV.
According to NASA spokesman Kelly Humphreys, US, French, and Japanese astronauts practiced this many times before the flight.
“Of course, I’m happy to hear that there was no threat, but if the procedure was in place and the threat was real, the crew would have been ready,” he said.
The Dragon Capsule and its crew arrived safely at the space station on Saturday, with no further surprises. New arrivals spend 6 months there.
Based at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the 18th Space Control Squadron tracks more than 32,000 objects in orbit, primarily non-functional satellites and rocket components. Some are as small as 4 inches (10 diameters). It can do a lot of damage to the spacecraft at even a little speed. Space stations are particularly vulnerable due to their vast size.
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