Soyuz spacecraft moves to new docking port

Soyuz spacecraft took a short flight outside the International Space Station Monday to move to a new docking port, after delay.

Sergey Ponomarev/AP
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with the Soyuz spacecraft carrying a new crew to the international space station (ISS) blasts off from at the Russian leased-Baikonur cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, June 16.

A Soyuz spacecraft took a short flight outside the International Space Station Monday to move to a brand new docking port, but only after Mission Control solved a circuit breaker glitch that delayed the space parking spot swap.

The spaceflight lasted just 25 minutes and ended when veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin manually docked the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft to the space station's newest docking port – an Earth-facing berth called Rassvet (Russian for "Dawn"). The docking port is so new, it is not yet outfitted with systems that allow Soyuz and other vehicles to dock in autopilot mode, requiring Yurchikhin's manual control.

But while the flight went according to plan, its beginning did not.

IN PICTURES: Aboard the International Space Station

A circuit breaker power failure one of the space station's wing-like solar arrays prevented NASA's Mission Control from latching the wing in the proper orientation for the Soyuz move. NASA typically positions the station's expansive solar wings to avoid any damage from thruster plumes when other spacecraft fly near the orbiting lab.

Mission Control solved the malfunction, but not in time for an on time undocking. Yurchikhin and his two American crewmates – NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker – had to spend an extra orbit linked to the station's rear docking port on its Russian Zvezda module.

Russian mission controllers told the Soyuz crew to get comfortable, even take off their Sokol spacesuit gloves if they felt like it. But Yurchikhin said they could wait it out.

"We feel great," Yurchikhin radioed to Russia's Mission Control center in Moscow. "Shannon and Doug are doing well."

After the initial delay, Yurchikhin undocked is Soyuz ship at 3:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT) and redocked it to the new docking port on the Rassvet module at 3:38 p.m. EDT (1938 GMT). External cameras on the space station's exterior beamed stunning views of the Soyuz back to Earth.

Russia's Soyuz crew capsules and unmanned Progress cargo ships are designed to make autonomous link ups at the space station's Russian-built docking ports, but the Rassvet module does not yet have all the electrical and cable hookups to allow hands-off rendezvous. That equipment will be installed during a July 26 spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts, NASA officials said.

Yurchikhin said before this spaceflight that he was very much looking forward to flying the Soyuz TMA-19 himself.

"Manual dockings are a very interesting task for us," he told before he launched to the space station on June 15. Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker are living aboard the space station alongside Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortkov, Mikhail Kornienko and American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. The six-person space crew makes up the station's Expedition 24 mission.

Yurchikhin was also excited that his Soyuz is the first to park at the Rassvet module, which is attached to the station's Russian Zarya control module. The new space room, also known as the Mini-Research Module 1, was built by Russia to serve as both a research room and a docking port, and arrived on NASA's space shuttle Atlantis in May.

The Soyuz docking port swap clears the way for another spacecraft headed for the space station.

On Wednesday, a Russian Soyuz rocket is set to launch the new Progress 38 cargo ship to the orbiting lab to deliver about 2.5 tons of cargo for the station's six-person crew. The cargo ship is due to dock at the aft end of the space station's Zvezda module on Friday.

IN PICTURES: Aboard the International Space Station


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