KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — There is so much junk in orbit that Endeavour's astronauts had to delay a jet firing Wednesday to avoid a close encounter with a 28-year-old spent Russian rocket.
It was the fourth time within two years that shuttle astronauts had to take steps to avoid trash in space. There are hundreds of thousands of pieces bigger than a marble floating up there, from space missions dating back to 1958.
Endeavour would have come within two-thirds of a mile of the Cosmos booster launched in 1965 had the jet firing occurred as originally planned for a helium experiment, NASA flight director Al Pennington said. The delay of 45 minutes, or half an orbit, allowed Endeavour to miss the rocket by more than six miles, he said.
Something the size of the Cosmos booster, which weighs a ton or more, could destroy a shuttle.
Endeavour is scheduled to rendezvous today with a European science satellite.