April 2 (UPI) — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said India’s anti-satellite test was a “terrible thing” as it created more than 400 pieces of debris that threaten the safety of the International Space Station and American astronauts.
Only three other countries have achieved this feat, including the United States, Russia and China.
Bridenstine told NASA employees during a live-streamed town hall that of the 400 pieces of orbital debris the Indian test created only 60 pieces were large enough to be tracked. Of those trackable pieces, 24 went above the highest point of the ISS’s orbit of the Earth.
“That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he said. “And that activity is not compatible with the future of human space flight that we need to see have happened.”
He said the newly created debris field increased the risk to the ISS by 44 percent within the 10 days following India’s test.
“These activities are not sustainable or compatible with human space flight,” he said.
NASA tracks more than 21,000 pieces of orbital debris, while a third of all debris was created by China’s destruction of a weather satellite in 2007 and the accidental collision of American and Russian communications satellites in 2009.
The NASA chief said orbital space debris threatens not only space travel, but scientific advancements.
“We are charged with enabling more activities in space than we’ve ever seen before for the purpose of benefiting the human condition, whether it’s pharmaceuticals or printing human organs in 3D to save human lives here on Earth,” he said.
Despite the increased risk to the ISS, Bridenstine said the chances of an incident occurring are low, but other countries might want to follow in India’s footsteps and that NASA cannot allow.
“It’s unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear what its impact to us is,” he said, adding, “we’re the only agency in the federal government that has human lives at stake here. And it is not acceptable for us to allow people to create orbital debris fields and put at risk our people.”