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A day after it launched a missile and blasted a large satellite into hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris, the Russian Defense Ministry has acknowledged the test but said it posed no danger to humans living in space.

"On November 15, the Defense Ministry of Russia successfully conducted a test, in which the Russian defunct Tselina-D satellite in orbit since 1982 was struck," the statement issued on Tuesday said. "The United States knows for certain that the emerging fragments at the time of the test and in terms of the orbitís parameters did not and will not pose any threat to orbital stations, satellites and space activity."

The statement was issued about 24 hours after NASA, European, and Russian astronauts on board the International Space Station, out of concern for a potential collision with "new debris," scrambled into their Crew Dragon and Soyuz spacecraft. They sheltered there for about two hours in case an emergency escape was necessitated by a debris strike.

Afterward, US officials condemned the act of shooting down the two-ton satellite at an altitude below 500 km, which is high enough that debris will remain in orbit for at least the next five to 10 years and may threaten many valuable assets, including the International Space Station.

US condemns
State Department spokesman Ned Price characterized the test as "reckless," adding that "this test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station as well as to other human spaceflight activities. Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space."

On Monday evening, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also condemned the test.

"I'm outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action," Nelson said. "With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board."

NASA, he said, will continue to monitor the environment in space for debris impacts. To mitigate against potential collisions, astronauts have closed the hatches to radial modules on the station, including Columbus, Kibo, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and Quest Joint Airlock. Hatches between the US and Russian segments remain open.

The Russian officials justified their test by stating that it occurred in response to US efforts to militarize space, such as through the creation of the US Space Force. They also noted that other countries have also conducted anti-satellite tests in the past, including the United States, China, and India.

Russian motivations?
Nevertheless, it remains difficult to fully explain the country's decision to destroy a satellite and create a cloud of debris that could very well threaten the International Space Station, as independent observations suggest.

Various theories have emerged to explain Russia's actions, but as of Monday evening senior US officials were still scrambling to comprehend Russian motivations. Certainly, the selection of this satellite, in this orbit, was not made by chance. However, the decision to hit the Tselina-D satellite, also known as Cosmos 1408, may have been taken by Russia's defense ministers without consulting the civil space operators of the space station.

One dark theory is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now concluded that Russia's space industry has fallen hopelessly behind the United States and China, and the gap will only further widen in future years. Because of this strategic and economic disadvantage, Putin has calculated that the best option for Russia is to deny certain orbits to these competitors. With Monday's test, then, he sent his counterparts a message that he still retains some control in spaceówhat you can destroy, Putin believes, you can control.

In the near term it seems likely that the US government, in concert with other spacefaring partners, will offer some sort of response. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called the test unacceptable and said Russia must be held accountable for its actions. In the long term, this only heightens existing concerns about debris and the sustainability of high-trafficked orbits near Earth.