A test debris field from a Russian anti-satellite weapons launch forced astronaut Kelly Reilly to shelter on the International Space Station for three days, NASA announced on Wednesday. Reilly, who is a part of the Expedition 56 crew, became the first U.S. astronaut to use the emergency shelter on a space station when the space debris hit on May 11. Crew members on the ground had been tracking the debris since launch and spoke with the Expedition 56 astronauts throughout the situation.
“I was coming out of my hatch, walking toward the pool for a briefing,” Reilly recalled. “I actually heard a loud rumbling, and just thought that there was something going on out back. I got to the hatch and I looked over to the other side, and there was a ball of fire coming straight at me. I reached out my arm, and there was debris coming right at me.”
A “giant ball of metal and shielding,” according to Spaceflight Now. A type of satellite that measures about five feet across and weighs 1,000 lbs. ripped loose during the test, which was done on May 11. The test debris traveled up to a mile per second, according to a press release issued by NASA last week. As the debris was disintegrating in orbit, there was a release of debris into the lower atmosphere, according to the statement.
The astronauts activated the emergency shelter on the station as quickly as possible, and once the environment was safe, they invited the rest of the crew to use it as well. “We all went and it wasn’t a big deal,” Reilly said. “Except for the smell of burned rubber, which I’m sure was something that’s burning.”
After the release of the debris, the crew took control of the emergency shelter to keep it safe until it could be brought back to the station. The shower container contained a seven-gallon water bottle. “The early tests were just about getting safe and getting comfortable with the safety equipment and doing some training,” he said.
“It wasn’t traumatic,” he said. “It was scary, but we all got it done and it was mostly a procedure.”
Officials on the ground monitored the situation and found that there was no danger for the two crews involved. The test debris will reach orbit again on May 24, where it will continue its path, according to NASA.