A Russian Soyuz space capsule with a crew of three landed safely on Saturday after an undocking glitch delayed their return to Earth by 24 hours.
On Friday, two cosmonauts and an astronaut had to abort their departure from the International Space Station (ISS) upon completing a six-month mission when computers signalled a technical problem with the hermetic seals and blocked the release of hooks and latches securing the Soyuz craft to the station.
An inspection of the docking unit showed that a small broken bolt got stuck in a gear mechanism smashing two of its teeth. The crew installed electrical jumper cables to bypass the damaged part of the mechanism and a second undocking attempt on Saturday morning went off flawlessly.
Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov said the problem had developed when a crewmember pushed a handle “a notch too hard”.
It is for the first time in the ISS' 10-year-long operation that a descent craft failed to undock from the station.
The faulty mechanism will be replaced when a visiting crew, due to blast off from the Baikonur space centre on October 8, brings spare parts to the ISS.