Why has NASA’s space walk been cancelled and is the Russian missile a threat?

NASA have had to cancel a spacewalk for Tuesday, November 30 around the time that dangerous debris from a Russian missile test was reported.

Moscow previously said it had successfully destroyed its own spacecraft, Tselina-D, which had been in orbit since 1982, but that the debris posed no “threat to space activity”.

The walk, which was organised at the International Space Station has been postponed until further notice after NASA received a "debris notification.”

Tom Marshburn, 61, and Kayla Barron, 34, were due to embark outside the space station at 7:10am Eastern Time (12:10 GMT).

Five hours before the outing, NASA tweeted that the spacewalk had been called off.

The space agency’s tweet read: "NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available."

What was the debris that posed danger to the spacewalk?

Russia's anti-satellite missile tests earlier in November shot down a Soviet-era satellite and created debris field in low-Earth orbit.

There was a potential near miss between the International Space Station (ISS) and this piece of orbiting junk, which is said to have posed a slightly elevated risk not just to the space station as a whole, but also a seven percent increased risk of the spacewalkers’ suits being punctured.

However, NASA did not mention that the debris was from the Russian missile test nor how close it had come to the space station – which orbits around about 402km (250 miles) above the Earth.

What was the spacewalk for and why was it cancelled?

A six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk had been planned to repair a communications antenna outside the ISS.

The objective of the spacewalk was to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly which is more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.

But mission controllers alerted that an item of debris was coming dangerously close to the space station, prompting NASA to call off their plans.

What was the original plan for the spacewalk?

According to original plans, Marshburn, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, was on meant to be on his fifth spacewalk working with US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer, Barron on her first spacewalk.

The two were meant to work at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with NASA crewmate Raja Chari.

All four of them joined two Russian cosmonauts and another NASA astronaut already on board on November 11. It was four days later that the anti-satellite missile test was conducted by Russia, resulting in residue debris.

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