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Space station moves to avoid space junk in orbit

The International Space Station had to make a slight adjustment Friday to dodge a piece of a satellite, caused by an orbital collision over two years ago.

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The International Space Station is seen as a small object in the upper left of this January 4 handout of the moon in the skies over the Houston, Texas area. The space station can occasionally be seen in the night sky with the naked eye and a pair of field binoculars.

Lauren Harnett/NASA/Handout/REUTERS

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The International Space Station dodged a piece of space junk today (Jan. 13) to avoid a potentially dangerous collision.

The orbiting laboratory, currently home to six astronauts from three countries, burned its thrusters at 11:10 a.m. EST, boosting its orbit slightly to take it out of range of a piece of broken satellite that was due to pass between 0.6 and 15 miles (1 and 24 km) of the station today.

"At this point indications are that the debris avoidance maneuver was carried out as planned and carried out successfully," NASA commentator Pat Ryan said on NASA TV. "The crewmembers continued their work onboard while the burn happened this morning."

The space junk was part of the Iridium 33 communications satellite, which collided with a defunct Russian Cosmos spacecraft in 2009, creating a cloud of thousands of bits of debris that now orbit Earth and sometimes pose a collision hazard to working spacecraft.

The particular bit of space junk the station dodged today was only about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, but could have been catastrophic to the $100 billion outpost if the two had collided at their high orbital speeds.

Potential space debris conjunctions are not uncommon for the space station. In November 2011 NASA was considering sending the three station crewmembers at the time into their Russian Soyuz spacecraft lifeboats to wait out a close pass by a piece of orbital trash. However, a subsequent analysis showed that the debris would stay far enough away to render the precaution unnecessary.

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