International space station loses control briefly after thruster misfire

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The International Space Station lost control briefly on Thursday after the thrusters on a Russian module misfired soon after docking.

The multipurpose laboratory module from Russia named Nauka docked at the station after a rough flight with its thrusters misfiring shortly after causing the station to move out of orientation, according to a NASA post.

None of the seven astronauts were in any immediate danger, as ground teams were able to stabilize the station, NASA space station program manager Joel Montalbano told reporters on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Officials said a “spacecraft emergency” was declared during the incident due to the “loss of altitude control” for 15 minutes. 

Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA said NASA specialists at the Johnson Space Center described the situation as a “tug of war” as the specialists turned on thrusters on another module to try to get the station back in place, according to Reuters.

When the Nauka thrusters shut down, the station was able to be restored to its original position.

The incident used more propellant reserves than Montalbano said he wanted to use.

However, he says there are no immediate signs of damage to the station and “the crew really didn’t feel any movement” during the incident.

It is unclear why the Nauka thrusters turned on, and the malfunction will be investigated.

The situation has delayed the launch of an un-crewed test flight to the station until Aug. 3.

Human error and software issues were floated around as possibilities for the module’s mishaps among Russian officials, Reuters reported.

“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,” Vladimir Solovyov, designer general at a Russian space agency company, said in a statement.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said after Solovyov’s statement that human error could have accounted for the incident as well.

“Everything was going well but there was a human factor. There was some euphoria (after successful docking), everybody got relaxed,” Rogozin said, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda website.

This story was updated at 2:14 p.m.

Tags exploration International Space Station NASA space flight

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