Tuck and roll! Watch ISS astronauts have fun during orbit-raising thruster fire (video)

Move over, Space Mountain. Three astronauts created their own "amusement park" ride using an entire space station.

The International Space Station needs to raise its orbit, or reboost, every so often to avoid falling back into Earth's atmosphere. So a Russian Progress spacecraft fired its engines for 13 minutes on Jan. 27, putting the orbiting complex "a few miles higher" above our planet, NASA officials wrote in a blog post Jan. 29. 

With this flurry of activity all happening on a Saturday, the Expedition 70 astronauts likely had a lighter work schedule as they orbited roughly 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. So they set up a video camera for X (formerly Twitter) crunched their bodies into little balls, and waited for the big moment to enjoy what would happen next.

Related: Watch next-generation lightweight spacesuit tested on Zero-G flight (photos, video)

NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli (front), European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen (behind) and NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara (far in behind) during an International Space Station reboost of its orbit on Jan. 27, 2024. (Image credit: NASA/Jasmin Moghbeli/X)

With the camera running in the Harmony node, the three astronauts posed mid-air in microgravity with hands clasped gently above their knees. NASA's Jasmin Moghbeli gave running commentary on a microphone. Just behind, the European Space Agency's Andreas Mogensen posed near the doorway into the Destiny laboratory, with NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara floating further back in the U.S. science hub.

"It should be in about 10 seconds or so," Moghbeli said on video. A quick jump cut later, astronauts still in position, she noted, "We're still waiting."

Then the engines turned on and created a gentle force on the ISS. "There we go," Moghbeli called, beginning to fall backwards towards the doorway as reaction and counterreaction played out. Far in behind, Mogensen and O'Hara also began to fly back, slow-motion style.

Perhaps the cutest part of the video is watching the three astronauts, flying in balls like at a sports event, temporarily blocking the path of a confused-looking crew member far in the distance, trying to enter Destiny at the rear side.

Progress isn't the only kind of spacecraft that can make the ISS go higher. A commercial vehicle from Northrop Grumman, Cygnus, has also been tested for space station adjustments.

NASA and Russia always prefer to have several kinds of vehicles available in case one encounters issues, which came in handy for a few months after a Soyuz spacecraft for three astronauts sprung a coolant leak in December 2022. 

While Russia was able to rush up a replacement Soyuz within a few months, in the meantime the agencies temporarily reassigned NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to SpaceX Crew Dragon in case of ISS evacuation. The other two crew members, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, were authorized to ride in Soyuz as the conditions inside were safe enough for fewer crew.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

  • rogersen
    Except... the astronauts were not "falling backward." The station was accelerating forward past them. Frame of reference is important.