Russia blames software failure after space station briefly thrown off course

The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module is seen docked to the International Space Station next to the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft on Thursday.

The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module is seen docked to the International Space Station next to the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft on Thursday. (Oleg Novitskiy/Roscosmos via Reuters)

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MOSCOW — Russia on Friday blamed a software failure for an incident that briefly knocked the International Space Station off course and said it was pressing ahead with work to activate a newly-attached module at the center of the episode.

The ISS was thrown off track on Thursday after the engines of the Russian Nauka, or 'science,' research module roared into life about three hours after it had latched on.

Vladimir Solovyov a designer general at Energia, a Russian space agency company, sought to reassure international partners that the incident had been contained and said cosmonauts would have it up and running soon.

"Due to a short-term software failure, a direct command was mistakenly implemented to turn on the module's engines for withdrawal, which led to some modification of the orientation of the complex as a whole," he said in a statement.

"The crew is now busy balancing the pressure in the Nauka module. 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 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, according to NASA.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who is on board, on Friday told his followers on Twitter not to worry.

"Dear friends, I'm reading your numerous comments. Don't worry! Our work at the International @Space_Station to integrate the newly arrived #Nauka module continues! Tonight we are going to open the hatches. Will keep you posted!"

Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, said checks on Nauka's engines were being completed remotely by Russian specialists to ensure everyone's safety and that the ISS was on its normal flight trajectory.

It said that the docking had been successful in so far as the seal between the new module and the rest of the ISS was hermetic.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, had hailed Nauka's docking with the ISS the previous day as "a very difficult and important victory for us" and warmly accepted congratulations on Twitter from space entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Rogozin also spoke of plans to launch another Russian module to the ISS in November.

Roscosmos has suffered a series of mishaps and corruption scandals, including during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the country's far east where contractors were accused of embezzling state funds.


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