NASA scrubbed Sunday’s space walk at the International Space Station over safety concerns following a bumpy landing for a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.
NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer were scheduled to go out and complete exterior work on the orbiting outpost, but the space agency canceled the venture, space station mission manager Kirk Shireman told reporters during a briefing.
The SpaceX capsule first parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean and then splashed down into the Pacific Ocean. The company has yet to confirm that the capsule’s computer system failed, but it has narrowed the possible cause to a short-circuit inside the spacecraft. The test controller onboard the capsule, Nick Hague, had to take over a few moments to turn over tasks, including steering to avoid colliding with any floating debris.
Meanwhile, NASA is concerned about more potentially space debris in orbit around Earth.
The space station has received a notification from Orbital ATK, warning it could receive small pieces of space debris. These include from recent satellite explosions as well as an object ejected from a Russian Soyuz capsule in 2014 that hit the space station’s solar wings.
“Once we got the envelope from Orbital, we were able to confirm that they would continue to receive a strong possibility of the debris,” Shireman said.
If the space station receives another alert, mission managers will discuss what steps to take next. It’s possible to take mitigation measures like shielding devices to protect the station, but it could take about a month to find and attempt to remove debris with those techniques.
Eventually, though, the space station’s cooling system could shut down from the pressure of gaseous debris. As NASA has reported, the station could also burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. This space debris alert could extend to Earth, too, if any debris enters orbital debris “noise” fields, Shireman said.
At this point, no major issues at the space station seem to be the result of this orbital debris alert, he said.