A dramatic recording from the International Space Station has captured the moment astronauts donned their spacesuits and scrambled to a re-entry craft after an unannounced Russian anti-satellite missile test sent a cloud of debris flying through space.
In audio recordings released late on Monday, Raja Chari, commander of Nasa’s Crew 3 mission, was heard going through the evacuation procedures with Mission Control in Houston as well as a possibility of a direct hit on the spacecraft.
“If that’s more than half an hour, then I think we’ll stay suited and potentially come back home if Dragon takes a hit,” Mr Chari was heard telling Mission Control, as his team were ordered to put on space suits and take shelter in their Crew Dragon re-entry craft while waiting for the debris to pass.
US Space Command said on Monday that Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile, striking a defunct Soviet-era satellite and scattering more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris in low-Earth orbit.
In an unusually emotional statement, Bill Nelson, the administrator of Nasa, said he was “outraged” by the missile test that he called “irresponsible and destabilising”.
Mr Nelson pointed out that Russia’s actions also threatened another space station, run by China, one of Russia’s main allies.
“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,” he said.
There are currently seven people on board the ISS including two Russian cosmonauts and three astronauts who recently arrived on a Dragon Crew spaceship.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on Tuesday dismissed the reports, insisting it was not true that Russia had used an anti-satellite weapon.
He accused the U.S. of being "hypocritical" when pointing to Russia endangering space exploration. According to Mr Lavrov, it is the U.S. that has been engaged "in an arms race in space", not Russia.
Mission control in Houston and Korolyov, Russia, had to wake up their crews and get them to evacuate the station twice on Monday night.
"An additional precautionary measure of sheltering the crew was executed for two passes through or near the vicinity of the debris cloud," Nasa said.
This was the fourth time a satellite has been taken out by a missile from the ground. Only the United States, Russia, China and India have demonstrated the capability.
Russia has publicly spoken out against weapons in space.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, accused Russia of being “willing to imperil the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behaviour."
Hours after the test-launch was first reported, Russian officials were still mum about what actually happened in the orbit.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, refused to comment on the reports of an ASAT test but put out a statement, vowing that the safety of the crew on board the International Space Station was its priority.
Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran Russian cosmonaut on board the ISS, tweeted after the evacuation Monday evening that his crew was safe and that they “continue to work according to the programme.”