The three man U. S. and Russian crew aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft was forced to postpone plans for an expedited transit to the International Space Station late Tuesday, when the third in a series of rendezvous maneuvers failed to occur, following an apparent flawless lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The mis-fire prompted tentative plans for a delayed ISS rendezvous and docking on Thursday at 7:58 p.m., EDT, allowing Mission Control Moscow to attempt space to ground communications over a series of U. S. as well as Russian ground station passes to determine whether the problem was soft or hardware related.
"The crew is fine," said spokesman NASA spokesman Josh Byerly, positioned in the agency's Mission Control Center in Houston, which monitored the intended fast paced launch and rendezvous operations.
U. S. astronaut Steve Swanson, Russian Soyuz commander Alexander Skvortsov and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday at 5:17 p.m., EDT, expecting to carry out a four orbit, six hour transit that was to have them docking to the station's Russian segment Poisk module at 11:05 p.m., EDT.
However, just after 10 p.m., EDT, NASA confirmed that the unexplained failure of the capsule's third post launch rendezvous maneuver, which was scheduled for 7:48 p.m., EDT, would require troubleshooting and tentative plans for an attempted linkup late Thursday. NASA called up ground stations at Wallops Island, Va., White Sands, N. M. and the Armstrong Flight Research Center, north of Los Angeles, to assist Russian flight controllers with their spacecraft communications.
The capsule may have been in the incorrect orientation for the maneuver, according to Russian flight controllers.
Thursday’s expedited rendezvous and docking was to be the fifth in the series of "same day" launch and docking ISS transits initiated by Russia in March 2013 to hasten the journey for astronauts in the cramped confines of the Soyuz spacecraft.
The backup two day launch to ISS rendezvous strategy follows the same profile followed by Russia for the launching of ISS crews between late 2000 and March 2013. NASA's space shuttle missions, which stopped with the retirement of the winged space ships in mid-2011, used the same two day transit to assemble and re-supply the ISS beginning in late 1998.
Waiting aboard the ISS for the Soyuz docking were Koichi Wakata, Expedition 39 commander, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin. Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are to replace Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazsanskiy, the U. S. and Russian trio that descended to Earth on March 10 after 5 1/2 months in orbit.