Astronauts still orbiting Earth after planned 6-hour trip to space station goes awry

Glitch delays Soyuz docking with space station; rendezvous set for tonight

On Tuesday, three astronauts expected to be safely onboard the International Space Station, meeting their new crew mates and getting to work. That, though, is not the case.

One NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are still orbiting the Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft nearly 24 hours after lifting off on what was expected to be a six-hour trip.

Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, at bottom, NASA flight engineer Steve Swanson, and Russia's flight engineer Oleg Artemyev wave farewell before boarding the Soyuz rocket that lifted off on Tuesday. (Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

A thruster failed to fire and move the spacecraft into position to dock with the International Space Station late Tuesday night, and Russian ground control decided to move to a backup rendezvous plan that entails 34 orbits around the Earth and an approximately 27-hour trip.

NASA reported that U.S. astronaut Steve Swanson and Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency are fine and awaiting their new docking time, set for 7:58 p.m. ET today.

Russian flight controllers are investigating the cause of the third thruster burn failure. Initial information suggests that the Soyuz was not at the correct orientation related to the space station, according to a NASA report.

The 34-orbit rendezvous plan is not new to the astronauts. Until last year, it took a spacecraft two days to dock with the space station.

In March 2013, a Soyuz spacecraft, carrying one astronaut and two cosmonauts, successfully docked with the space station in record-breaking time that was less than six hours. The faster trip used new rendezvous techniques that had been tested in three previous unpiloted Russian cargo spacecraft.

This is the first time that Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft have ferried a U.S. astronaut to the space station since a growing disagreement began between the U.S. and Russia over the latter's actions in Ukraine.

NASA said in a statement to Computerworld that the agency does not expect the current Russia-Ukraine situation to have an impact on its longstanding cooperative efforts on space exploration.

"NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency continue to work together in the mutual pursuit of peaceful space exploration," NASA said.

This article, Astronauts still orbiting Earth after planned 6-hour trip to space station goes awry, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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