According to NASA flight controllers, an unusual and potentially dangerous situation happened at the ISS as the newly-docked Russian Nauka module, without any intention, fired its thrusters, causing a “tug of war” with the ISS and briefly pushing it out of position.
A long-delayed laboratory module Nauka that Russian space agency Roscosmos’ launched onto the ISS last week without intention fired its thrusters after docking with the ISS on Thursday. It was declared a spacecraft emergency by NASA because the space station experienced a loss of attitude control for nearly one hour. The ground controllers lost communications with the seven astronauts current onboard on ISS for 11 minutes during the ordeal. A joint investigation between Roscosmos and NASA is now ongoing.
NASA’s ISS Program Joel Montalbano says the astronauts were never in danger, and they have noticed no damage to the ISS. At one point, NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, Texas, asked them to look outside the space station’s windows to see if they could find any damage or debris to the station.
Due to this incident, the launch of the Boeing Starliner uncrewed test flight to the station was delayed on Friday, which had been set to launch. NASA says the move allows the “International Space Station team time to continue working checkouts of the newly arrived Roscosmos’ Nauka module and to ensure the station will be ready for Starliner’s arrival.”
NASA officials were quick to downplay the severity of the incident, describing it as a “pretty exciting hour” and a “dynamic event.” “Until you exhaust all your contingency plans, that’s when you start to worry, and today we just weren’t there,” said Montalbano.
Montalbano said that accidental firings of thrusters had taken place maybe three or four times during the 20 years that the ISS has been in orbit. The former deputy administrator of NASA, Lori Garver, once said the incident is a reminder that their lack of insights into Russian partners capabilities is an uncontrolled risk.