Spacecraft Takes Sudden Hit In Space

( The International Space Station was briefly thrown out of control on Thursday after the jet thrusters on the newly-arrived Russian research module inadvertently fired just a few hours after it docked.

The seven crew members aboard — two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, and astronauts from Japan and the European station agency – were never in any immediate danger, according to NASA. But the malfunction did prompt NASA to postpone its planned launch of Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner capsule that was set to undergo an unmanned test flight to the space station last Friday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Thursday’s mishap occurred about three hours after the multipurpose Russian Nauka module had docked onto the space station. According to NASA, mission controllers in Moscow were performing some post-docking “reconfiguration” procedures when the module’s jets inexplicably restarted, causing the space station to pitch out of its normal flight position approximately 250 miles above the Earth.

The mission’s flight director then declared a “spacecraft emergency.” During the incident, the station was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about a half a degree per second. Twice during the disruption, communication with the crew was lost for several minutes. But at no time was the crew in any danger, nor did they even feel any of the movement.

Automated ground sensors first detected an unexpected drift in the station’s orientation, then 15 minutes later by a “loss of attitude control” that lasted just over 45 minutes. Flight teams on the ground restored the space station’s orientation by activating thrusters on another module of the orbiting platform.

According to NASA specialists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the struggle to regain control of the space station was like a tug-of-war between the two modules.

Finally, the Nauka engines were switched off and the space station was stabilized. Its orientation was restored to where it had originally begun.

In the event that the situation became too dangerous, the crew would have been evacuated aboard the SpaceX crew capsule still parked at the station. This capsule is designed to serve as a “lifeboat” if necessary.

The cause of the malfunction of the thrusters on the Nauka module has yet to be determined.