The crew of the international space station survived a close call with space junk Thursday.
The three crew members took refuge for 11 minutes in the Soyuz escape capsule and then were told to go back into the space station. Officials were worried about a possible collision with a small piece of an old spacecraft motor.
The debris was about one-third of an inch in width, said NASA spokesman Josh Byerly. It passed within three miles of the space station.
The drama began unfolding with a statement on the NASA Web site expressing concerns about a "minimal" chance that the space station could be hit by debris.
The astronauts aboard the orbiting platform — two Americans and one Russian — retreated to the relative safety of the Soyuz TMA-13 space capsule as a precautionary measure, NASA says.
"Crew members are taking precautionary measures due to space debris that has been determined to be within the range where a collision is possible," the NASA Web site said. "News of the close approach came too late for flight controllers to coordinate an avoidance maneuver."
Once inside the capsule, crew members would have been able to quickly leave the station if necessary.
The chief fear was that debris hitting the station could cause a fatal loss of air pressure inside the station.
With reporting from The Associated Press.