A new Russian segment of the orbiting platform malfunctioned last week, spinning the International Space Station around 1 1/2 times on its main axis, according to a NASA spokesman, as new details about the incident emerged.
“Mission control received alerts on the ground at the same time astronauts received an alert that the attitude [position] of the space station was changing,” NASA public affairs officer Dan Huot told UPI on Tuesday.
“The astronauts didn’t even know they were moving, because the motion was very slow, until they looked out the window and saw the Earth and stars moving.”
Nauka, a Russian module, had just docked with the space station when its thrusters unexpectedly fired. This resulted in the unplanned rotation.
A Russian government official blamed the problem on “a short-term software failure” that caused Nauka to initiate undocking or withdrawal from the space station in error, according to a statement released Friday.
NASA initially declared that the space station had spun by 45 degrees, but this was still early in the event. The space station had rotated 540 degrees by the time Russian engineers were able to counter the spin, according to Huot. The entire episode was under an hour long.
Some may think it’s a wild ride, but the space station is rolled out on a regular basis or reconfigured for specific events in space, according to Huot. He claims that because astronauts are usually floating in midair due to microgravity, the effect on them is minimal.
Indeed, the space station was rolled Thursday to provide a clear shot for the Nauka module to arrive and dock, according to Huot, who added, “It was pretty much flying upside down or on its head, just to keep the docking port aligned, when the incident started.”
NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and Mark Vande Hei, as well as Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, currently occupy the space station, Thomas Pesquet of France and two Russian cosmonauts, Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitskiy.
The orbital complex is the length of a football field and travels around the world at approximately 17,000 mph at a height of about 260 miles. Such speed is required to keep the space station in orbit, otherwise it will fall back into the atmosphere.
Because the space station is international in nature, NASA will not release any additional information until Russia completes its investigation and makes any further disclosures, according to Huot.
This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Md. Aboard are: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Mark Vande Hei; Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Joining the crew aboard station the next day were Crew-2 mission crew members: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo by Bill Ingalls