Stuck Hooks Delay Space Station Crew's Landing

Space Station Crew Prepares for Landing: Can Feel Like a Car Crash, Astronaut Says
The Expedition 24 space station crew members participate in a ceremonial change of command ceremony aboard the International Space Station Wednesday. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Thisstory was updated at 10:50 p.m. ET.

Adocking port malfunction is preventing a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from leavingthe International Space Station as planned tonight (Sept. 23), forcing itsthree-person crew to remain in space for at least two extra orbits as engineerson Earth study the glitch.

TheSoyuz TMA-18 spacecraft was slated to undockfrom the space station at 9:34 p.m. EDT (0134 Sept. 24 GMT) in order to returntwo cosmonauts and one American astronaut back to Earth after six months inorbit. But a set of hooks locking it to its docking port have refused tounlatch, NASA officials said.

"Itis not clear as to why the hooks won't drive open, but we have passed the timefor a nominal undocking," NASA commentator Rob Navias said in a NASA TVbroadcast.  Engineers at Russia's Mission Control center near Moscow arestudying the issue and working on backup plans, he added.

Russianflight controllers are now aiming for the second of two backup landingopportunities, which would call for an undocking time of about 12:35 a.m. EDT(0435 GMT) on Friday, and a landing time of just before 4:06 a.m. EDT (0806 GMT)on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan. [Graphic? Inside and Out: The International Space Station]

Thelanding will be some 248 miles (400 km) north of the original landing targetzone, NASA officials said.

TheSoyuzspacecraft is slated to return American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson toEarth alongside her Russian crewmates Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko.They are wrapping up a nearly six-month mission to the InternationalSpace Station.

Butin order to return to Earth, the hooks securing their Soyuz to the spacestation must be released.

Thestuck hooks are on the space station's Poisk docking module, a chamber mountedto the top of the space station Russian segment. These hooks, along with otherson the Soyuz side, ensure the spacecraft and station are securely attachedwhile docked.

Russianflight controllers assured the Soyuz crew that they are still slated to returnhome tonight.

"Thereis no cancellation in the cards for the moment," a flight controller said.

Skvortsovsaid he and his Soyuz crewmates are doing well. Mission Control told them totake off their landing spacesuit gloves and get comfortable while they wait.

"We'refeeling fine and we're ready to proceed," he said.

  • Graphic ? Inside and Out: The International Space Station
  • Video: Astronaut Describes Riding Home on a Rocket
  • Gallery - Soyuz Spaceship's Snowy Landing

NASAwill broadcast the upcoming Soyuz spacecraft undocking and landing live on NASA TV. Undocking andlanding coverage begins at 9:15 p.m. ET (0115 Sept. 24 GMT). Click here live space station missionupdates and a link to NASA TV.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.