ISS crew safe after newly docked module unexpectedly fires thrusters

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The Russian-built Nauka module approached the ISS for docking.


Oleg Novitskiy/Roscosmos

First the good news. The Russian-built Nauka laboratory successfully docked with the International Space Station on Thursday morning. Now, the not so good: Nauka “inadvertently and unexpectedly” fired its thrusters after docking, causing the ISS to lose attitude control (aka control over its orientation). 

According to NASA TV updates, the station went out of orientation by about 45 degrees. Thrusters built into a service module, and a Russian Progress spacecraft docked to the station, were able to correct the problem and bring the ISS back under control. 

There are seven crew members on board from NASA, Japanese space agency JAXA, the European Space Agency and Russian space agency Roscosmos. “Recovery operations have regained attitude and the crew is in no danger,” NASA tweeted.

There’s no explanation yet for why Nauka’s thrusters fired, though the module has experienced technical challenges, including issues with its thrusters, since it launched just over a week ago.

Nauka is designed as a science lab, a docking port for spacecraft and an airlock for cosmonauts going on spacewalks. Roscosmos released the 20-year-old Pirs module from the ISS to burn up in the atmosphere and make room for the new addition.

The thruster glitch could shake up at least one other scheduled ISS launch. “Teams are also monitoring the impact to tomorrow’s launch of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft,” said NASA in a statement. The uncrewed Starliner mission is a test flight meant to show that the spacecraft can safely travel to and from the ISS.

NASA reports that all ISS systems are operating normally. The crew’s schedules for Thursday have been scrubbed and the team will focus on working through any issues with Nauka.   

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