July 3, 2010

Russian Cargo Ship Misses Space Station

An unmanned Russian cargo ship carrying supplies for the International Space Station was forced to abort its docking procedure after a faulty radio link was discovered moments before the ship made contact with the station on Friday, US and Russian space officials said.

The glitch occurred about 25 minutes before the Progress cargo ship was due to automatically dock itself at a berthing slip on the station's Zvezda module, scheduled for 20:58 Moscow time (1658 GMT). Instead, Progress floated safely past the station at about 2 miles out, said NASA spokesman Rob Navias. He noted that the six-member crew was never in any danger.

Russian mission control told the crew to go back to normal activities and the Johnson Space Center repositioned the station out of its docking mode, Navias said.

The station's commander, cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, was quoted by Interfax as telling Russian mission control that the ship was "spinning uncontrollably" before disappearing from view. However, Russian space agency deputy head Vitaly Davydov later announced that the ship was not out of control.

"The Progress ship and the International Space Station are in working order and reliable communication with them is being maintained," Davydov said on state-run television.

A spokesman for mission control outside Moscow told the official RIA Novosti news agency that the mishap was not an emergency situation. "Information has come via telemetry that there is no emergency situation on the cargo ship."

The Progress M-06M launched Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan without any problems. It was carrying nearly 3 tons of cargo including fuel, food, water, equipment and spare-parts for life-support gear.

Russian flight controllers did not say what impact, if any, the manual docking system setup had on the communications equipment. The space agencies said there would be no additional docking attempts for at least two days. Flight controllers said docking failures have occurred in the past, but a complete docking failure is rare.

A commission will be formed to investigate the causes of the incident within the "shortest possible time," Russian space officials told Interfax.

In addition to Skvortsov, the station's crew includes cosmonauts Mikhail Korniyenko and Fyodor Yurchikhin, and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker.


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