The International Space Station (ISS) was thrown briefly out of control when jet thrusters of a newly arrived Russian research module (Nauka) inadvertently fired a few hours after it was docked to the orbiting outpost, NASA said. The seven crew members aboard — two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a European space agency astronaut from France — were never in any immediate danger.

What

  1. The malfunction prompted NASA to postpone until at least Aug. 3 its planned launch of Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner capsule on a highly anticipated uncrewed test flight to the space station.
  2. The Starliner had been set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  3. This mishap began about three hours after the multipurpose Nauka module had latched onto the space station, as mission controllers in Moscow were performing some post-docking “reconfiguration” procedures.
  4. The module’s jets inexplicably restarted, causing the entire station to pitch out of its normal flight position some 250 miles above the Earth, leading the mission’s flight director to declare a “spacecraft emergency, US space agency said.
  5. An unexpected drift in the station’s orientation was first detected by automated ground sensors, followed 15 minutes later by a “loss of attitude control” that lasted a little over 45 minutes.
  6. At the height of the incident, the station was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about a half a degree per second.
  7. The Nauka engines were ultimately switched off, the space station was stabilized and its orientation was restored to where it had begun.
  8. What caused the malfunction of the thrusters on the Nauka module, delivered by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has yet to be determined.
  9. The Nauka module is designed to serve as a research lab, storage unit and airlock that will upgrade Russia’s capabilities aboard the ISS.
  10. A live broadcast showed the module, named after the Russian word for “science,” docking with the space station a few minutes later than scheduled.