Soyuz glitch prompts manual docking to space station
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: October 16, 2004
Cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov grabbed manual control of the Soyuz spacecraft during the final minutes of today's rendezvous with the International Space Station, overriding the autopilot that was supposed to guide the capsule throughout the approach and docking.
The linkup, which occurred a few seconds before 12:16 a.m. EDT (0416 GMT), completed a two-day trek from the Kazakhstan launch pad to the International Space Station for Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao, flight engineer Sharipov and visiting cosmonaut Yuri Shargin.
Chiao and Sharipov will call the orbiting lab complex home for the next 191 days, replacing Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Michael Fincke who have been living on the station since April.
"We'll take good care of this new crew, show them the ropes, show them the ship, give them a great handover and they can carry on the fine traditions that we've established with all of our Expedition crews," Fincke told former station commander Ken Bowersox in a space-to-ground chat before docking.
"It'll be sad to be leaving but happy to see our families," Fincke continued.
"I know but it still feels like somebody is kicking you out of your apartment, doesn't it?" Bowersox quipped.
"I remember you telling me that earlier and you're absolutely right. You are absolutely right. But I guess that is par for the course," Fincke replied.
Russian flight controllers are investigating why the Soyuz's velocity was higher than expected as it moved closer to the station under the control of the capsule's KURS automated rendezvous and docking system. The problem triggered an alarm inside the crew module and mission officials stationed near Moscow ordered Sharipov take manual control.
Sharipov, a veteran cosmonaut who flew aboard a space shuttle mission in 1998 that visited Russia's space station Mir, put his extensive Soyuz piloting training to use.
He maneuvered the capsule into alignment with the Pirs docking module while the Soyuz and space station soared 225 miles above Earth in darkness. With a firm grasp on the situation, the Soyuz commander flew the spacecraft down the precise corridor for a smooth docking at sunrise.
"The docking today, from my point-of-view, looked excellent," Fred Gregory, NASA's deputy administrator and former shuttle astronaut, told reporters from the Russian control site. "I was observing the transition from automatic rendezvous to manual and it appeared seamless. It appeared that the crew was extremely well trained. There was no excitement. It appeared extremely routine."
Three hours following docking -- after orbiting the Earth twice -- the hatchway between the Soyuz and station was opened, allowing the five crew members to unite. It was a delightful moment for the Expedition 9 crew after spending the past six months alone aboard the station.
Congratulatory calls from VIPs in Russian mission control followed before the space fliers reviewed safety procedures and began a busy eight-day changing of the guard between resident crews. Chiao says the time spent with the outgoing crew will be critical.
"I think it's absolutely essential," he said during a pre-flight interview. "Of course I haven't experienced it firsthand, but everything that I've heard and just my perception of it is that it's absolutely essential because no matter how good the training is on the ground it's never the same as being on the actual vehicle.
"Also, those guys, they've been up there for six months, and they know the ins and outs of the station, they know the little surprises, the 'gotchas,' and things like that, and they will spend that week handing over to us all their knowledge. And that'll really give us an edge on hitting the ground running."
Other activities scheduled include repairs to the Russian oxygen generator using spare parts brought up on the Soyuz and work on the troublesome cooling system inside one of the American spacewalk suits aboard the station.
Rookie cosmonaut Shargin, a Russian Space Forces engineer, will carry out a science research program aboard the station over the next week before returning to Earth with the departing Expedition 9 crew. The Soyuz TMA-4 capsule parked at the Zarya module will ferry the trio home on the night of October 23, landing in Kazakhstan at 0032 GMT (8:32 p.m. EDT).