Don’t you hate it when you’re driving along and a piece of debris comes out of nowhere and puts a chip in your windshield?
Well, what if you’re traveling over 17,000 miles per hour, and that chipped windshield is the only thing keeping you from instant death by decompression?
That’s the reality for the crew of the International Space Station, where a piece of space debris put a disconcerting gash in one of the station’s windows in April.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 12, 2016
European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake tweeted a photo of an impact on one of the windows of the cupola, a module that provides some of the station’s best views.
The issue of floating space junk orbiting the earth is becoming an ever-growing problem for the International Space Station. Nearly every time a rocket is launched into space, it jettisons pieces of equipment in the launch. Those pieces then orbit the planet, until they eventually drift back into the atmosphere and burn up.
But the junk is sent up faster than it’s being destroyed.
A researcher made a video illustrating the growth of space junk in just under 60 years of space travel.
Thankfully, the windows are built to withstand not just the vacuum of space, but also impact from such debris.
NASA has a department devoted to monitoring junk that could hit the station. When they detect a collision course, NASA instructs the crew to plot a maneuver to evade the trajectory.
Fortunately, space has a lot of, well, space. It’s not exactly a thick cluster of trash that the station is barreling through, like some kind of hail storm in space, but it is a safety threat the crew must be aware of.
In 2007, the Chinese launched a missile at a defunct weather satellite, sending more than 3,000 pieces of debris into space, according to NASA.