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Space station mishap caused orbiting lab to rotate 1 1/2 times, NASA says

The Russian module Nauka flies high above Brazil on Thursday after docking with the International Space Station, next to the black Soyuz crew spacecraft. Photo courtesy of NASA
The Russian module Nauka flies high above Brazil on Thursday after docking with the International Space Station, next to the black Soyuz crew spacecraft. Photo courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 3 (UPI) -- The International Space Station spun around 1 1/2 times on its main axis last week when a new Russian segment of the orbiting platform malfunctioned, a NASA spokesman said, as new details emerged about the incident.

"Mission control got alerts on the ground at the same time astronauts got an alert that the attitude [position] of the space station was changing," Dan Huot, a NASA public affairs officer, told UPI on Tuesday.

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"The astronauts didn't even know they were moving, because the motion was very slow, until they looked out the window and saw the Earth and stars moving."

The Russian module, Nauka, had just docked at the space station when its thrusters fired unexpectedly. That caused the unplanned rotation.

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In a statement Friday, a Russian government official blamed the problem on "a short-term software failure" which caused Nauka to initiate undocking or withdrawal from the space station in error.

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NASA at first announced the space station had spun by 45 degrees, but that was still early in the event. By the time Russian engineers were able to counter the spin, the space station had rotated 540 degrees, Huot said. The entire episode lasted less than an hour.

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That may seem like a wild ride to some, Huot said, but the space station is rolled routinely or reconfigured for certain events in space. Because astronauts usually are floating in midair due to microgravity, the effect on them is minimal, he said.

In fact, the space station had been rolled Thursday to provide a clear shot for the Nauka module to arrive and dock, Huot said, adding, "It was pretty much flying upside down or on its head, just to keep the docking port aligned, when the incident started."

Current occupants of the space station are astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of Japan, Thomas Pesquet of France and two Russian cosmonauts, Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitskiy.

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The orbital complex spans the length of a football field and travels around the globe at roughly 17,000 mph at about 260 miles high. Such speed is necessary to keep the space station in orbit, or it would gradually fall back into the atmosphere.

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Because the space station is international in nature, NASA won't release anymore details until Russia completes its investigation and makes further disclosures, Huot said.

Out-of-this-world images from space

This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Md. Aboard are: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Mark Vande Hei; Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Joining the crew aboard station the next day were Crew-2 mission crew members: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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