Science & Astronomy
15. December 2015

The docking of a crewed Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS is usually a fairly boring affair and today it looked like a fairly normal arrival of Timothy Peake, Yuri Malenchenko and Timothy Kopra, who had launch earlier today from Baikonur. But shortly after I had taken the capture seen on the right, the automatic Kurs docking system failed and the spacecraft backed up suddenly to a safety point about 140 meters away from the station. While this is relatively unusual and does not happen very often nowadays, it poses no dangers for the crew because the pilots are extensively trained for both automatic and manual docking. There was not even the slightest confusion when the crew switched to manual mode and although was some urgency to be heard in the radio transmissions, in the end the Soyuz was docked safely by Yuri Malenchenko manually – that means the spaceship was flown by hand!

[Update: the full docking video is now online – watch the Soyuz suddenly reverse at 4:35! There’s also the amazing launch video in which the first stage booster separation was clearly visible.]

This was just another reminder that spaceflight is hard, but if you train astronauts well there is nothing to be afraid of. The Soyuz is now docked to the ISS, but the actualy hatch opening is still more than an hour away – you can watch it live on NASA TV, but on 19:00 GMT there’s also a special Stargazing Live episode on BBC2 hosted by Brian Cox and Dara O Briain with Helen Sharman and Chris Hadfield as guests – see my post over at DVDLog for more about that! I’ll update this article with another paragraph about the hatch opening later this evening.

Update: The three astronauts are now aboard the ISS, but the hatch opening was somewhat delayed – so much, that the Stargazing Live broadcast from the BBC had to run longer because the three new ISS crew members just came into the station when the hour was up! Fortunately the BBC had granted them some overtime so that the short welcoming ceremony including the somewhat awkward calls home were broadcast too. It was a great way to see this almost familiar event, especially with two former astronauts, Helen Sharman and Chris Hadfield narrating in addition to Brian Cox and Dara O Briain. And now… let Expedition 46 commence!

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