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ISS scare as new module’s thrusters suddenly fire up

A serious incident occurred at the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday when a newly docked module suddenly fired up its thrusters, pushing the orbiting laboratory out of orientation.

Ground teams managed to regain control of the ISS, and NASA is currently reporting its condition as “stable.” It added that during the extraordinary event, “the crew was never in any danger.”

The Nauka Multipurpose Logistics Module (MLM) — the Russian module at the center of the drama — docked with the space station at 9:29 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 29. Russian cosmonauts aboard the space station then carried out routine procedures to check for any leaks between Nauka and the service module.

Three hours after docking, at 12:45 pm, “the flight control team noticed the unplanned firing of MLM thrusters that caused the station to move out of orientation [by 45 degrees],” NASA said in a report on the incident, adding, “Ground teams have regained attitude control and the motion of the space station is stable.”

To put the ISS back in its correct orientation, controllers fired the thrusters of another ISS module, according to Russian news agency RIA.

As Mission Control and the seven-person ISS crew continue to investigate the issue, NASA announced that the planned launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the space station on Friday will now be delayed. A new date for launch is expected in the coming hours.


The new Nauka module will function as a science facility for experiments, a docking port for connecting incoming spacecraft, and an additional airlock used by crew members before and after spacewalks. It also brought with it a new robotic arm that will be fixed to the exterior of the space station and used to assist spacewalks, move payloads, and conduct inspections.

When Nauka arrived on Thursday morning, and before there were any signs of trouble, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough welcomed the new addition to the space station, saying that “everyone had worked hard to ensure this module arrived safely today.”

Congrats to our Russian friends and colleagues! @Space_Station grew today as we welcomed 'Nauka' aboard. This Multi-purpose Laboratory Module will provide a new science facility, docking port, & spacewalk airlock. All have worked hard to ensure this module arrived safely today.

— Shane Kimbrough (@astro_kimbrough) July 29, 2021

But just a few hours later, the situation changed drastically when Nauka’s engines unexpectedly fired up.

NASA and its Russian partner Roscosmos are still investigating the issue, but for now at least, it seems the situation is under control.

This certainly isn’t the first tricky incident that the ISS crew and ground controllers have had to deal with. Just last year, for example, the station had to dodge some potentially dangerous space debris that was heading its way.

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Trevor Mogg
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