When India blew apart one of its satellites orbiting Earth last week, it created hundreds of pieces of orbital debris, and some of those pieces are large enough and high enough to pose a potential threat to the International Space Station, NASA says. “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris in an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, referring to the debris’ highest point in orbit. “And that kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human space flight that we need to see happen.” NPR reports: In calculating the Indian test’s potential impact last week, he said NASA determined that the risk of small debris hitting the space station was increased by 44 percent over a period of 10 days. “It’s unacceptable, and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is,” Bridenstine said, discussing space debris and India’s anti-satellite test at a town hall event Monday.
As he spoke about the heightened risk, the NASA administrator also emphasized that both the space station and the astronauts aboard it are safe. The station can be maneuvered out of harm’s way if needed, he added. But another danger, he said, is that “when one country does it, then other countries feel like they have to do it, as well.” “The good thing is, it’s low enough in Earth orbit that over time, this will all dissipate,” Bridenstine said on Monday. Those pieces are expected to burn up as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. India’s intercept of its own satellite created 400 pieces of orbital debris, Bridenstine said. “What we are tracking right now – objects big enough to track, we’re talking about 10 centimeters [4 inches] or bigger – about 60 pieces have been tracked,” he said. “Of those 60, we know that 24 of them are going above the apogee of the International Space Station.”