“Houston, We have a problem”: Astronauts abort return to Earth

Update!

25.10.2010 – 0635 CET

Astronauts undocked successfully and are due to touchdown at 09:22 this morning.

(Reuters) -

Two Russians and a U.S. astronaut aborted a return to Earth on Friday when their space capsule failed to separate from the International Space Station. “This situation has never occurred before,” a spokeswoman at Russian Mission Control near Moscow said, as space officials scrambled to determine the cause.

International Space Station

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and two Russian crew mates climbed into a Soyuz capsule hitched to the station for the descent, but latches holding the craft to a docking port failed to open, the spokeswoman said.

Russia’s space agency chief Anatoly Perminov told reporters at Mission Control that Dyson, Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Korniyenko’s return to Earth after nearly six months in space had been rescheduled for Saturday.

The docking mechanism did not function because the station’s computer sent a false signal indicating the hatch between station and capsule was not fully sealed, Perminov said. He said technicians had found no problem with the seals, and suggested they were still puzzling over exactly went wrong.

A second undocking attempt “could have gone ahead today, but we need additional time to make sure we have reliable information about the problem,” Perminov told a terse news conference at Mission Control. “There is no point in rushing,” he said. Perminov refused to take questions, saying he did not want to fuel rumors.

Russian Mission Control and the U.S. space agency NASA’s Mission Control in Houston agreed the three crew members would go back to the space station and await a fresh undocking attempt on Saturday, NASA said. Three other crew members, Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker, would remain aboard the station as planned after Saturday’s departure. “I see no technical problem on the station or anywhere that would threaten the crew,” Perminov said. Another Russian space agency official, Alexei Krasnov, said the landing should now take place on Saturday at about 9:20 a.m.

Skvortsov, Korniyenko and Dyson boarded the space station on April 4 after a flight up together in the Soyuz TMA-18 craft, which will also be used for their return to Earth.

Fingers crossed for the next attempt on Saturday.

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