Reports are circulating that the six-man crew of the International Space Station has been forced to evacuate as ground stations track fast-moving debris heading its way.
Numerous sources are reporting that the ISS crew has been ordered to immediately evacuate the station and head to the Soyuz escape craft as ground crews treck dangerous debris heading towards the facility.
If the facility is hit, its structure could be damaged in such a way as to allow the atmosphere to escape into the vacuum of space.
So far, there has been no official word on how serious the threat, which is similar to a 'red debris' concern that prompted a 2009 evacuation, actually is.
We will update this story as more information becomes available.
While there is still no official word on the matter, CNN's R. A. Greene has reported on Twitter (opens in new tab): "International Space Station briefly evacuated because of space debris; situation now over, everyone OK."
Speaking to thinq_, chairman of the Reading Astronomical Society John Talbot confirmed that the debris passed without incident, and that the evacuation was merely a precaution. "The debris missed the ISS and the crew returned after about 30 minutes in the Soyuz," he explained. "NASA has coincidentally been discussing the evacuation procedures in case of emergency for the upcoming final visit of the Space Shuttle on Twitter this afternoon.
"The space around the ISS is constantly monitored for possible space debris," he added, "as a large impact could have devastating consequences. Occasionally bits of debris can 'sneak' up and be detected too late for the ISS to take evasive action. On these occasions the crew has to 'evacuate' just in case."
Talbot also confirmed that today's evacuation was similar to that which occurred in 2009. "In March 2009 a piece of space debris - possibly a discarded piece of the ISS itself - was detected in a possible collision course with the ISS. The ISS can manouevre itself out of the way of this kind of threat given enough warning, but it was too late on this occasion. The crew evacuated into the Soyuz spacecraft which is docked to the ISS. If the ISS was impacted it could lead to loss of atmosphere on board and endanger the lives of the crew. In a worst case scenario," he concluded, "the crew could return to Earth on the Soyuz."