Last week, a Russian module accidentally moved the International Space Station. Now a NASA flight director has revealed the event was more serious than what NASA initially reported.
On Thursday (July 29) morning, the long-awaited Russian research module Nauka docked with the space station. But a few hours later, the module accidentally fired its thrusters, briefly flipping the space station and causing it to lose what engineers call “attitude control.”
However, while NASA said on Twitter and officials reiterated during public comments on the incident that the orbiting lab had tilted about 45 degrees, which doesn’t appear to have been the whole story. According to a New York Times report, Zebulon Scoville, the NASA flight director in charge of mission control in Houston during the event, said the station had tilted much more than 45 degrees.
According to Scoville, the event was “a little poorly reported”. He said that after Nauka was incorrectly started, the station “made a turn and a half – about 540 degrees – before stopping upside down. The space station then flipped 180 degrees towards the forward to return to its original orientation, ”according to the report.
Scoville also said it was the first time he had declared a “spaceship emergency”.
Related: Russian Nauka module tilts space station with unexpected thruster fire
After Thursday’s event, NASA held a press conference to discuss what had happened. During the press conference, Space Station Program Director Joel Montalbano said: “There was no immediate danger to the crew… obviously when you have a loss of attitude control, it is is something you want to straighten out. the crew was never in an immediate emergency or anything like that. “
Scoville echoed the same sentiment, agreeing that the astronauts on board were never in danger in his comments to the New York Times. However, he did reveal some details of the day’s events that show the incident was a bit more serious than NASA’s initial comments seemed to suggest.
According to the report, Scoville regained control of the mission after docking. It was actually his day off, but he was there as he had helped prepare for docking the module and wanted to see how it went. He ended up taking over from previous leader Gregory Whitney, who was due to attend a meeting, after docking, believing the sailing would go smoothly from there. But soon a warning lit up.
“We got two messages – just two lines of code – saying something was wrong,” Scoville said.
After initially thinking that the message might have been a mistake, he told the New York Times, he soon realized that it wasn’t and that Nauka was not only pulling his thrusters, but that he was actually trying to get away from the space station he had just docked. And he was quickly told that the module could only receive direct commands from a ground station in Russia, which the space station would not pass for more than an hour.
Related: International Space Station at 8 p.m.: A photo tour
According to Scoville, the station achieved a maximum spin rate of 0.56 degrees per second. However, it was not quick enough for the astronauts to feel it, according to Scoville and also by NASA officials during the briefing.
The crew, working with ground crews, helped counter Nauka’s thrusters by counter-pulling thrusters on the Russian Zvezda module and the Progress freighter. Also, 15 minutes after he started firing, Nauka’s thrusters stopped, although Scoville said he wasn’t sure why the thrusters did.
But this combined series of events and counteractive measures allowed the team to get the station to stop moving and return to its correct position.
“After doing that jump back one and a half times it stopped and then came back the other way,” Scoville told The New York Times.
“The intensity is probably increasing a bit,” Scoville said, as ground crews and the station’s seven astronauts worked quickly to remedy the situation. “But,” he added, “there’s a kind of all-pervading calm in people who don’t panic and just look at the data, figure out what’s going on and try to fix the problem. go from there. “
After what certainly wasn’t the relaxed day off he had planned, Scoville sighed in relief on Twitter Thursday afternoon, after the station got back into place and the situation stabilized.
” Yeah ! It was. One day. ” he apologized.
Scoville also tweeted Thursday that he had never “been so happy to see all the solar panels + heaters still attached”.
Despite the unexpected fear the module incident sparked at NASA last week, Scoville told the New York Times he was confident of the partnership Russia and the United States had on board the station.
“I have complete confidence in the Russians,” he said. “They are a fantastic partnership with NASA and the entire International Space Station program.”
Nauka’s accidental thruster firing came a day before the scheduled launch date for Boeing’s unmanned test flight for its Starliner Astronaut Taxi, which the company built with support from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
To make sure the situation with Nauka and the space station was stable before trying to dock another vehicle at the station, NASA and Boeing decided to postpone the Starliner launch until Tuesday (August 3). at 1:20 p.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. GMT).
Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.