Sci-Tech

Space station head manually docks errant supply craft

A malfunction forces space station commander Gennady Padalka to take manual control of an approaching Progress supply ship, remotely guiding it to a smooth docking.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Space station commander Gennady Padalka aborted the automated approach of the unmanned Russian Progress supply ship Wednesday after a malfunction left it in the wrong orientation.

Instead, he took over the manual controls and remotely guided the craft to a picture-perfect docking.

"Everything is centered and I'm closing," Padalka reported as he orchestrated a slow approach to the Zvezda command module's aft port. "Point zero seven... contact...very soft contact, very nice...capture."

"All right, Gennady, congratulations," a Russian flight controller radioed. Docking was confirmed at 7:12 a.m. EDT.

The view from an unmanned Progress supply ship approaching the space station. NASA TV

It was familiar territory for Padalka, one of Russia's most experienced cosmonauts. During his approach to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft last March, the automated KURS rendezvous system malfunctioned and Padalka had to take over manual control to complete the final stages of his own docking.

Wednesday's rendezvous appeared normal up until the point the Progress should have started its final approach. Television views showed the spacecraft approaching from below, then executing a fly-around maneuver to line up on the Zvezda module's aft port. It was at that point that something went wrong.

"Gennady, it looks like the fly around is over, but we're in the completely wrong configuration," Russian flight control radioed. "You need to dock manually. Transition into the TORU mode."

"Yes, in work, I'm going to go ahead and assume control," Padalka replied from inside the Zvezda module.

Station commander Gennady Padalka manually guides the Progress 34 spacecraft to a smooth docking after the craft's automated rendezvous system malfunctioned. The aft port of the Zvezda command module is seen above in this view from the Progress. NASA TV

Once he took over, he reported the Progress responding normally, and television views from the cargo ship showed a rock-solid final approach to the aft docking port.

"Hey Mike, first and foremost, a big congratulations to you guys on a tremendous docking," Hal Getzelman radioed from mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It was beautiful.

"Yeah, Gennady is top of the line for manual modes," replied space station flight engineer Michael Barratt, who launched with Padalka in the Soyuz TMA-14 capsule. "We were all in there watching. He did a great job."

Launched July 24, the Progress 34 spacecraft's load includes 1,830 pounds of propellant for space station maneuvers, 110 pounds of oxygen, 463 pounds of water, and 2,718 pounds of maintenance hardware, spare parts, and research equipment.

Flying about 370 miles ahead of the station in a slightly lower orbit, the shuttle Endeavour's crew spent the morning examining the ship's reinforced carbon-carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels in a now-standard post-undocking inspection to look for any signs of micrometeoroid impact damage that might have occurred since a similar inspection the day after launch.

Endeavour undocked from the space station Tuesday. Landing is expected Friday at the Kennedy Space Center.