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As the ISS avoids Russian space debris, NASA postpones the astronaut spacewalk

On Wednesday, Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada of NASA were scheduled to venture outside the International Space Station to instal new rollout solar arrays, which will increase the station’s power output. After donning their spacesuits, they took them off. Because of a piece of debris in space, the spacewalk had to be rescheduled.

On Wednesday, the ISS performed a Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver to avoid hitting a piece of a Fregat-SB upper stage, which is a component of a Russian rocket system used to launch satellites. NASA stressed in a statement that “the crew was never in any immediate danger.”

Director of NASA’s Office of Public Affairs Daniel Huot provided a livestreamed update on the debris situation. The decision to use the thrusters of a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft docked at the station was made by NASA. For over 10 minutes, the thrusters worked overtime “to provide the complex an extra measure of distance away from the predicted track of the debris.” The debris had been monitored for a few days, but new data showed it was dangerously close to the ISS, just a quarter of a mile away. A Soyuz spacecraft that was docked to the ISS sprung a dramatic coolant leak this week, possibly as a result of a small meteorite striking the spacecraft.

In October, another piece of Russian space debris caused the ISS to swerve. As bits of rockets, decommissioned satellites, and other debris accumulate in Earth’s orbit, avoiding collisions has become an all-too-common occurrence.

Thursday is a possible new date for the postponed spacewalk.