Satellite survives close encounter with space junk
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- While the crew of the Discovery took pictures Tuesday of the Hale-Bopp comet with an ultraviolet telescope, a satellite trailing the shuttle came within 1 1/2 miles of a 500-pound piece of space junk.
The satellite, which is being used to measure ozone, was 51 miles behind the Discovery when it had its close encounter with an abandoned rocket motor. The shuttle crew was not in any danger, German mission manager Konrad Moritz said.
The U.S. Space Command, which tracks junk in orbit, warned NASA that a discarded rocket motor was in the neighborhood. And as it neared, engineers predicted the two would be anywhere from a half-mile to 3 1/2 miles apart.
The German-built satellite weighs 7,700 pounds and cost tens of millions of dollars. The rocket motor is one of 8,500 pieces of orbiting objects being tracked by the Space Command, most of them junk.
A collision between the two, both traveling at 17,500 miles an hour, would have been disastrous. And the uncertainty made for some anxious moments for scientists on the ground, who watched on computer screens as the two drew near each other.
Ground controllers were prepared to fire tiny thrusters on the satellite to maneuver it out of the way, but it was not necessary