Written by By Alexander Alexeyev, CNN Mikhail Klimentyev, CNN
There are multiple theories as to what caused the explosion of the Soyuz rocket that took Russian astronauts to the International Space Station , sending shrapnel to two astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. One of them is that the rocket failed due to an anti-satellite weapon test.
Alexander Smirnov, Flight Engineer, Expedition 57/58. Credit: NASA
“Sergei Prokopyev and Fyodor Yurchikhin are safe but will remain on the ISS for the next few days and will be stripped of their equipment until an investigation is finished,” NASA officials wrote on Twitter.
A Russian anti-satellite weapon test in 2007 led to anti-satellite debris being spotted in orbit, affecting the trajectory of satellites and spacecraft. These have to alter their orbits to avoid the debris, creating extra distance between them and the earth’s surface.
Scientists recently believed they had contained this problem. But in mid-June, debris from the explosion of the Soyuz rocket scraped the ISS. The US space agency is calling the situation a “crisis,” according to Russian broadcaster First Channel.
According to some reports, the debris narrowly missed the station’s Russian crew.
These images are from a time of the most intense orbital debris between 2007 and 2012. Credit: NASA JPL
At first, a debris strike was not confirmed. But in a televised press conference on Friday, Russian flight commander Yuri Malenchenko expressed concern.
“There is absolutely no need to be afraid of the situation,” Malenchenko said, explaining that all the ISS astronauts are regularly briefed by experts and safety teams.
The astronauts’ rescue appears to have been successful. The crew was in a heavily shielded area protected from air and water, according to NASA officials.
“The well-controlled manner in which they will be retrieved from the station is being tested in real time as Russian Mission Control directs a special rescue system, under the command of astronaut Sergei Prokopyev and US Flight Engineer Anne McClain, to recover them from the spacecraft,” NASA reported.
In a statement from the European Space Agency, astronaut Alexander Gerst said the crew, though shaken, is otherwise “fine and all the equipment is working”.