Russia denies allegations of threatening astronauts aboard ISS with weapons tests

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian officials on Tuesday dismissed allegations that they threatened astronauts aboard the International Space Station by conducting a weapons test that created more than 1,500 pieces of space debris, but a White House official said Russia’s actions would threaten activities in space “in the years to come.”

U.S. officials on Monday accused Russia of destroying an old satellite with a missile in what they called a ruthless and irresponsible attack. They said the waste could damage the space station, an assessment backed by NATO chiefs.

Astronauts now face four times greater risk than usual from space debris, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the Associated Press. The late Russian satellite Cosmos 1408 orbited about 40 miles (65 kilometers) higher than the space station.

The test clearly demonstrates that Russia, “despite its claims to oppose the use of weapons in outer space, is willing to … endanger the exploration and use of outer space for all nations through its ruthless and irresponsible behavior, “U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said on Tuesday that Russia’s action demonstrated its “complete disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations. This waste will continue to pose a direct threat to external activities. space in the coming years and endangers satellites on which all nations depend for national security, economic prosperity and scientific discovery. ” He said the United States would work with its allies, “when we seek to respond to this irresponsible act.”

Even a stain of paint can do great damage when circling at 17,500 mph (28,000 km / h). Something big, by impact, can be catastrophic for the space station.

The Russian Ministry of Defense on Tuesday confirmed that it was conducting a test and destroying a decommissioned satellite that has been in orbit since 1982, but insisted that “the United States knows for sure that the resulting fragments in terms of test time and orbit parameters did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities. ” It called remarks by US officials “hypocritical”.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the attack was carried out “with surgical precision” and posed no threat to the space station. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also accused it of “hypocrisy” to say that Russia poses risks to peaceful activities in space.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos would not confirm or deny that the strike took place, saying only that “the unconditional security of the crew has been and remains our top priority.”

When the situation became clear early Monday morning, they were ordered aboard the International Space Station – four Americans, a German and two Russians – to immediately seek refuge in their anchored capsules. They spent two hours in the two capsules and finally showed up only to have to close and reopen the hatches to the station’s individual laboratories on each lane, or 1 1/2 hours as they passed near or through the space debris.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg agreed that Russia’s actions endangered the space station.

“This was a ruthless act on Russia’s part to actually shoot down and destroy a satellite as part of a test of an anti-satellite weapons system,” which created a lot of space debris, Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

He said it was of further concern, “because it demonstrates that Russia is now developing new weapon systems that can shoot down the satellites, could destroy important space capabilities for basic infrastructure on Earth, such as communications, such as navigation or as early warning of missile launches. “

The German Foreign Ministry also said it was “very concerned” about the test, which it said resulted in “additional risks” to the astronauts on the ISS.

“This irresponsible behavior involves a high risk of miscalculations and escalation,” the ministry said, adding that the test underscores the urgency of an international agreement on rules for the peaceful use of space.

NASA Mission Control said the increased threat could continue to disrupt astronauts’ scientific research and other work. Four of the seven crew members first arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday night.

A similar weapons test of China in 2007 also resulted in countless pieces of waste. One of them threatened to get dangerously close to the space station last week. While the risk it later posed was rejected, NASA still made the space station move.

Anti-satellite missile tests of the United States in 2008 and India in 2019 were carried out at much lower altitudes, well below the space station, which orbits about 260 miles (420 kilometers) high.

Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Darlene Superville in Washington DC contributed to this report.

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