Astronaut Karen Nyberg on the International Space Station in
2008. We may not hear of them, but things go wrong on the
ISS and space in general on a
Slip-Ups in Outer Space: More Common than You Might Think (Financial Times Deutschland,
early hours of Wednesday, the European ATV 3 supply capsule was supposed to
undock from the International Space Station loaded with waste and full urine
tanks. NASA broadcast the undocking procedure live over the Internet - but
nothing happened. ... There were immediate recriminations on expert blogs. ... This
mishap of a command sent to the wrong capsule address is just the latest
chapter in a book full of misadventures in space."
This is the 30-foot-high European ATV 3, designed to carry up to 70 tons of cargo to the International Space Station, and haul out waste and garbage. A recent glitch involving the craft has created some controversy over who or what is to blame.
The transport of oxygen, water, food and other payload to the
International Space Station has been a routine operation for years. Until
recently, this has been done mainly with unmanned Russian Progress
capsules. They carry up valuable payloads, depart with waste and are sent back into
the earth's atmosphere. There, everything burns up as if in an incineration
plant. In the early hours of Wednesday, that was the plan for the European ATV
Transfer Vehicle] supply capsule, which was supposed to undock from the ISS loaded with waste and full urine tanks. U.S. space
agency NASA broadcast the undocking procedure live over the
Internet - but nothing happened, despite the ATV3's highly sophisticated
This payload vehicle, built under the direction of Astrium,
the space division of European Aeronautic Defence and
Space Company [EADS], can even
dock automatically. This time, however, the capsule was unable to manage the much
simpler of undocking.
There were immediate recriminations on expert blogs. Some
reports claimed that a Russian laptop on the ISS had issued
a radio command for the vehicle to undock, but that the ATV didn't respond. So
therefore, [according to the Russians], it was the ATVís fault. But on
Wednesday, the European Space Agency explained that the command for undocking
was sent to the wrong supply capsule address. Experts unequivocally determined
that the signal was sent to ID number 34; however, it was supposed to be sent
Numerous Mishaps in
As to how such a mishap could have occurred, the ESA has been mum so far. There will be another attempt for
undocking in the early hours of Friday, Sept. 28.
This mishap of a command sent to the wrong capsule address
is just the latest chapter in a book full of misadventures in space. The launch
in March of an ATV was thwarted for several weeks. Someone had forgotten to properly
harness the payload tanks inside the 10-meter craft. This negligence was discovered
only when the top of its rocket was mounted.
In 1998, a U.S. Mars probe was lost because metric measurements were
confused with imperial units. Last year, a Russian Proton rocket was refueled
with the wrong quantity of fuel, which meant that the satellite could not reach
its planned orbit.
The most serious glitch was a rag forgotten in an Ariane 4 rocket fuel line in 1090, which ended with the
rocket crashing. Another mishap includes the German TV satellite TV-SAT 1,
launched in 1987. It failed because either someone forgot to remove a transport
safety brace, or the solar panels were mounted upside down. Experts argue about the case to this day.