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SYFY WIRE International Space Station

The International Space Station was tilted as much as 45 degrees off course after module firing mishap

By Benjamin Bullard

The International Space Station’s newest module showed up right on time this week — but it brought a little drama along for the ride. The station is back in its proper position following a reported rocket booster “tug of war” incident: a docking module mishap that, for nearly an hour, threw the ISS and its astronauts off their stable orbiting tilt by as much as 45 degrees.

NASA was quick to tweet out the basics of what transpired more than 260 miles above the Earth’s surface on Thursday, assuring followers that none of the station’s seven astronauts were in danger and that the ISS was back on course — despite an unwelcome push from its newest modular guest.

The incident started with the Russian module Nakua — a new module intended “to host science experiments, anchor visiting vehicles, and serve as a gateway for spacewalks,” according to The Nakua had just completed its first-ever docking maneuver with the ISS and was mechanically attached to the main craft, when a reported software malfunction caused its thrusters to begin firing again.

The incident began at approximately 12:35 p.m. ET on Thursday. For the next 45 minutes, thrusters on the Zvezda module located on the other side of the ISS fired back in an effort to counter the Nakua’s unexpected application of force, staging what NASA mission control communicator Drew Morgan described, via The Verge, as “a little bit of a tug of war between thrusters firing from both.”

Though the ISS effectively lost control of its orbital angle for the duration of the incident, U.S. and Russian mission control were able to counter the issue and realign the station — even though the ordeal had temporarily tilted the station from its normal operating angle by as much as 45 degrees, according to NASA.

Though it only lasted about an hour, the effects from Nakua’s bumpy first meeting with its ISS host will take longer to dissipate. “The crew is now busy balancing the pressure in the Nauka module,” Russian space agency Roscosmos explained in a Friday udpate. “This is a rather lengthy procedure, because the total volume of the module is about 70 cubic meters. In the afternoon, the crew will open the hatches, enter the module, turn on the necessary means of purifying the atmosphere and begin normal regular work.”

The incident also bumped the scheduled Friday launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule for its uncrewed rendezvous with the ISS. Originally slated for 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday, the Starliner launch has been tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 1:20 p.m., allowing the ISS crew “to continue working checkouts of the newly arrived Roscosmos Nauka multipurpose laboratory module (MLM) and to ensure the station will be ready for Starliner’s arrival,” NASA said in a post-incident blog post.