The Russian Multipurpose Laboratory module “Nauka” docked with the International Space Station at 9:29AM Eastern on July 29th. It had an 8 day journey to get to the station. Nauka is a docking port, a spacewalk airlock, and a whole science facility - the biggest room in the International Space Station yet at 13 meters long and a diameter of 4.25 meters. Nauka launched from Kazakhstan after 14 years of delays.
Celebrations were had after the docking procedure was successful.
3 hours later at 12:59PM Eastern the ISS was passing over Indonesia. Nauka’s autopilot woke up and decided that it was time to take thrust control and leave. Unfortunately, Nauka was still firmly attached to the station. This is not ideal for the crew within the station.
The module started firing its thrusters to position the module for firing its main thruster. Outside of radio control from Moscow’s Mission Control, it was unknown that Nauka was firing its thrusters. Only once the ISS started to shift orientation from these thrusters did NASA detect it - but within minutes the Flight Director in Houston started attempts to counteract the spin.
At the same time, the station’s automated systems began to note the deviation from norm and took action to counter the spin via thrusters on the Russian half of the station. Houston Mission Control instructed astronauts to close hatches and windows - preparing for the worst. The ISS was designed to handle this kind of torque - but it was a maneuver far outside normal mission parameters.
44 minutes of thruster action rotated the station one and a half turns about its long-axis. By the time the station entered back into Russian radio contact the thruster had exhausted its fuel and was dormant. Moscow Mission Control directed the flight control back to the ISS from Nauka and sent instructions for the station’s thrusters to return the ISS to a more desirable orientation.
Work continued as normal after the disaster had been averted.