Russia Confirms It Destroyed Satellite That NASA Says Endangered ISS Astronauts

Russia denied anyone was endangered by a debris field generated by the anti-satellite strike, even as NASA released an audio recording of astronauts scrambling to safety.
‘Precision Worthy of a Goldsmith’: Russia Confirms It Destroyed Satellite
Photo: Stock image

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) scrambled to put on emergency gear as warnings arrived of a huge debris field triggered by Russia testing an anti-satellite missile, according to a recording released by NASA.


In the recording, astronauts can be heard saying they would take shelter for two orbits because of the cloud. NASA said it released the recording to protest the “irresponsible and destabilising” actions by Russia.

The dangerous cloud of debris formed after the Russian military tested a supersonic anti-satellite missile on a decommissioned communications satellite on Monday. It was the first time the Russians had tested such a ground-based system although the USSR regularly tested anti-satellite missiles launched by aircraft throughout much of the Cold War.

"It is true that we have successfully tested a cutting-edge system of the future. It hit an old satellite with precision worthy of a goldsmith. The remaining debris poses no threats to space activity," Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu was quoted as saying by Russian state media during a working tour of military units near Voronezh on Tuesday.

After strong condemnation of the test by U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the Russians released a statement of their own that accused the Americans of overstating the danger of the estimated 1,500 pieces of satellite debris now circling the planet at supersonic speeds.

"The United States knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities," the Russian military said, according to the AFP news agency.


"The Russian defence ministry successfully conducted a test, as a result of which the Russian spacecraft 'Tselina-D', which had been in orbit since 1982, was destroyed," the military said in a statement.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also accused the Americans of “rank hypocrisy,” for suggesting the Russians had somehow put the ISS at risk.

But despite the claims that it posed no danger, the recording released by NASA shows the four Americans, two Russians and a German onboard the space station were at enough risk to be woken by mission control, told to don space suits in case debris struck the station and depressurised it. The astronauts then sat for hours in emergency return vehicles in case an evacuation was needed.

"An additional precautionary measure of sheltering the crew was executed for two passes through or near the vicinity of the debris cloud," NASA said.

NASA administrator and former astronaut Bill Nelson rejected the Russian claims the test posed no threat.

“With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board,” he said.