An Anti-Satellite Weapon test in April successfully destroyed its target and left a large debris field, forcing astronauts on the International Space Station to shelter in the space shuttle landing module for about a month. The tests were the first known use of an Anti-Satellite Weapon in space.
The test was conducted by the Russian military and came at a time when tensions are building between the U.S. and Russia over U.S. military activity in the Arctic.
“With no conflict on earth, it was impossible to relocate this hazard to prevent potential collisions,” the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote in a statement. “Moreover, the attempt to reduce the danger of impact with Earth’s atmosphere was likely to result in a serious impact in space, leading to the destruction of the station, and because of the complex nature of orbital ecology, damage to other satellites or physical destruction of the atmosphere.”
Space station crew members reacted angrily to the news. Astronaut Alexander Gerst, who has been on the orbiting facility since December, said on Twitter that the Russian military “should take its responsibility seriously” when it comes to protecting human and non-human life.
“This is an extremely serious new hazard and an unacceptable risk to the manned mission in space,” Kjell Lindgren, an astronaut who has also been living on the space station since December, wrote on Twitter.
Sending human lives into space is a mission of high level of concern to me personally, and it’s clear that this test was not only dangerous but also irresponsible,” Lindgren added.
The Russians say that the American side asked them not to react publicly, and they cooperated. “The decision to down-link everything was not easy, but the nature of their requests was clearly appreciated by us,” Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a statement.
But NASA did not hide its frustration, and President Trump tweeted that it was “dangerous and costly” to have satellites in orbit, and that he was “asking for a review” of Russia’s capabilities.
Trump has also challenged China to come up with a viable solution to the issue. The Chinese have not agreed to send astronauts to Mars, for instance, while China is pouring money into its own space program.