WASHINGTON — New details have emerged about last week’s frightening incident when a freshly docked Russian module started firing its thrusters, causing the International Space Station to flip backwards one-and-a-half times during a dramatic 47-minute tug of war.
Here are the details: Gizmodo reports that NASA has provided new information about the accident the International Space Station suffered on Thursday, July 29.
The incident happened some three hours after Russia’s Nauka module docked to the space station.
Russian crew members were working to integrate the module when its thrusters suddenly fired, trying to pull the module away from a space station it was securely docked to.
The worst part was that Nauka was configured so that it could receive commands only from a ground station in Russia, and the next pass over Russia was 70 minutes away.
Unable to disable Nauka’s thrusters, Russian controllers counteracted the momentum by firing thrusters attached to the Zvezda Service Module.
Fearing this might not be enough, they also fired thrusters on a Progress cargo ship docked to the station.
This 15-minute tug-of-war finally stopped when Nauka’s thrusters suddenly cut out, for reasons that are still unclear.
With attitude control regained, the flight controllers were able to right the ship.
NASA maintains that the crew of seven was never in any danger, but Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Gizmodo this was one of the more serious incidents in the 24-year-history of the ISS.
The loss of attitude control, he said, “risks breakup” of the entire structure.