The space station that constantly orbits the Earth was thrown out of control on July 29 by a Russian module misfiring, the U.S. space agency NASA said.
The module, named Nauka, docked at the International Space Station around 9:30 a.m. Eastern.
About three hours later, flight control teams noticed the unplanned firing of module thrusters “that caused the station to move out of orientation,” NASA said in a statement.
Ground teams regained control and the station’s motion became stable.
“The crew was never and is not in any danger, and flight controllers in Mission Control Houston are monitoring the status of the space station,” NASA said.
The loss of attitude spanned about 45 minutes, Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s space station program, told reporters in a conference call.
The irregular movement peaked at half a degree per second.
Vladimir Solovyov, a Roscosmos official, said in a statement that “slight fluctuations” were detected during the final rendezvous between the Nauka module and the station, but that they were eliminated by the docking system.
“The docking mechanics worked reliably, without any comments and led to the closure of both docking mechanisms of the station and the module. Due to a short-term software failure, a direct command was mistakenly implemented to turn on the module’s engines for withdrawal, which led to some modification of the orientation of the complex as a whole. This situation was quickly countered by the propulsion system of the Zvezda module,” he said.
Russian astronaut Oleg Novitskiy told followers on Twitter not to worry.
“Don’t worry! Our work at the International Space Station to integrate the newly arrived Nauka module continues!” he wrote.
If the mishap had escalated to the point where station evacuation was required, crew could have boarded a SpaceX capsule that’s designed in part to be a “lifeboat” for astronauts, NASA’s Steve Stich told reporters.
Flight teams decided to delay the launch of Boeing’s Orbital Flight test mission to let astronauts keep checking the model. The mission will see Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner go to the station.
The station orbits Earth 16 times per 24 hours. The station is approximately 260 miles above the Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000.
A compilation of astronauts conduct research on the station, rotating stints every six months or so.
At present, Novitskiy and fellow Russian Pyotr Dubrov are on board with NASA’s Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and Mark Vende Hei, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, and France’s Thomas Pesquet.