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Cosmonauts dock Russian cargo ship remotely after its autopilot glitched

Published Dec 9th, 2023 10:33AM EST
international space station over Earth
Image: dimazel / Adobe

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A Russian cargo ship carrying 5,600 pounds of fresh supplies for the International Space Station suffered a terrible glitch, forcing cosmonauts aboard the ISS to remotely dock it. The Progress 86 spent two days in flight after an autopilot glitch forced the spacecraft off its planned route. Luckily, cosmonauts aboard the station were able to take over controls remotely and dock it safely, and NASA streamed the entire thing live on NASA TV.

Progress 86 is just the latest of Russia’s spacecraft to suffer from some kind of issue or breakdown. Previously, we saw one spacecraft spring a leak, leaving astronauts stranded on the ISS for longer than originally intended. Later, we saw Russia’s Nauka science module spring a leak, too. Fortunately, none of these leaks have been dangerous for the crew aboard the station.

Now, with this autopilot glitch, a massive store of supplies bound for the ISS was put at risk. Unfortunately, there’s no current known reasoning for the glitch, so it’s unclear if it was caused by faulty hardware, software, or just another unforeseen issue. Obviously, pointing the blame directly at Russia isn’t going to make any difference here, and there is a lot of red tape to jump through for any kind of investigations moving forward.

soyuz over Earth, russian sending new soyuz for ISS rescue mission
Russian spacecraft orbits Earth before approaching International Space Station Image source: Andrey Armyagov / Adobe

However, to say that this list of issues hasn’t shaken up some concerns about Russia’s ongoing efforts involving the ISS would be an understatement. There are definitely some concerns about the age of the hardware and software that Russia is using in its spacecraft, and thankfully, we have other spacecraft from companies like SpaceX to help with resupplies as well.

The important thing here, of course, is that the Progress 86 autopilot glitch didn’t cause the loss of the supplies aboard the spacecraft. With over two tons of supplies onboard, the loss would have definitely stirred up trouble aboard the ISS, as space agencies involved would have had to scurry to get another resupply up to the station.

The concern, of course, is that the next issue could pose more danger to the astronauts who currently call the ISS home for the next several months. It remains to be seen if Russia will share any info about what caused the issue, or whether the nation can even nail down a cause.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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