A problem with a thruster aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule ferrying one American and two Russians to the International Space Station has caused an unexpected delay for the crew in reaching the orbiting platform.
As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, it was supposed to be a six-hour journey from the launch at Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome to the ISS, but one of the thrusters didn't fire at the right time.
Russian Soyuz engineers aren't yet sure if the problem was a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction. Space.com says the wrinkle will delay astronaut Steve Swanson and the two Russian cosmonauts, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, by two days. The three are now expected to dock with the station Thursday evening (ET).
"The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said during televised coverage. "They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days."
As The Associated Press writes:
"Since the 2011 retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet, NASA has depended on the Russian spacecraft to ferry crews to the orbiting outpost and is paying Russia nearly $71 million per seat. This cooperation has continued despite tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea and U.S. calls for harsher sanctions on Russia.
"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden repeatedly has said that the conflict in Ukraine would have no effect on the U.S.-Russian partnership. As recently as Tuesday he reiterated on his blog that while NASA continues to cooperate successfully with Russia, it wants to get its own capacity to launch crews as quickly as possible. NASA is trying to speed up private American companies' efforts to launch crews into orbit, but it needs extra funding."