The Russian Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft is seen docked to Russia’s Nauka multipurpose laboratory module at the International Space Station. (Image » NASA)

Mike Wall , Space »

Unplanned thruster firings by a Russian spacecraft briefly knocked the International Space Station off-kilter today (Oct. 15), the second such incident in less than three months.

The spacecraft involved today was the Soyuz MS-18, which is scheduled to bring cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, film director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild back to Earth early Sunday morning (Oct. 17). Russian flight controllers fired up the vehicle’s thrusters at 5:02 a.m. EDT (0902 GMT) in a planned pre-departure test.

“The thruster firing unexpectedly continued after the end of the test window, resulting in a loss of attitude control for the International Space Station at 5:13 a.m.,” NASA officials wrote in an update this afternoon.

The orbiting lab briefly tilted from its normal orientation this morning by 57 degrees, according to the Russian news agency Interfax, which cited communications between Novitskiy and Vladimir Solovyov, the flight director of the station’s Russian segment.

Space station managers don’t yet know what caused the anomalously long firing. NASA and Russia’s federal space agency, known as Roscosmos, are looking into that together at the moment, NASA officials wrote in the update.

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If the Russians are not doing this on purpose, then it must be gross incompetence.