The International Space Station consists of 16 linked habitats, strung with solar arrays, space debris shielding, and a robotic arm, all spread over an area about the size of a football field. Yesterday, the entire assembly began to tilt and tumble after a newly-arrived Russian module malfunctioned and began firing its thrusters uncontrollably. Only the rapid response of flight controllers in Moscow and Houston, and of the 10 astronauts onboard, kept the $1 billion space lab on course.
“We proceeded to do headstands and cartwheels,” Zebulon Scoville, a flight director on duty in Houston during the episode, said in a tweet. “Olympic judges would be proud.”
Senior NASA officials were quick to downplay the incident, insisting the crew was never in any danger during a roughly 45 minute period when the space station lost attitude control, or the ability to maintain the vehicle’s orientation relative to the planet below. But the team responsible for the space station was clearly worried the unexpected maneuvers might have damaged the solar arrays that power the orbiting lab, although no issues have been identified so far.
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