Soyuz Thruster Malfunction Has ISS Crew Running Two Days Late

Yesterday afternoon's Soyuz launch has hit a snag. A thruster misfire means the planned six-hour flight, delivering U.S. astronaut Steven Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev to the International Space Station, will now take two days. Talk about a terrifying flight delay.

The intended 24-second engine burn would have adjusted the spacecraft's orbit to keep it on course for arrival around 11PM EDT yesterday. It's currently unclear whether a software glitch or a mechanical issue is at fault for the missed automatic burn. NASA spokesman Josh Byerly says the crew will now arrive at roughly 8PM EDT on Thursday evening.

"The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped," Byerly said.

While an in-flight malfunction and a 48-hour delay sounds pretty terrifying, the route that the astronauts will now travel was once the standard path Soyuz took to the ISS. Since 2012, ISS flights have taken the new six-hour route, which involves four major engine maneuvers the spacecraft normally performs automatically. This mission would have been the fifth flight on the shorter route.

Since 2012, the Soyuz has maintained the two-day, 34-orbit trajectory as a backup route. "They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days," Byerly said, adding that the crew have taken off their space suits to prepare for the extended flight.

Since the U.S. retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, Russia's Soyuz has been the only spacecraft capable of ferrying crew to and from the ISS. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has frequently called for the U.S. to develop its own capability to launch crews into orbit. [AP; Space.com via NPR]

Image: US astronaut Steven Swanson, left, Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov, center, and Oleg Artemyev, members of the current mission to the International Space Station, pose during a news conference in Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, March 24, 2014. Image credit: AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky