NASA Astronauts may have to abandon the 100 billion ISS in November

first_imgThe International Space Station may be left empty in November if its astronaut inhabitants are forced to abandon it. According to NASA, Russian engineers are currently trying to figure out what caused a failure of a Soyuz rocket that crashed just after its August 24 launch intended to deliver 2.9 tons of supplies to the ISS. The unmanned rocket was attached to the Russian cargo ship Progress 44.The main reason for concern is that Progress’ Soyuz rocket is very similar to the one that Russia uses to launch a vehicle that carries the crew to the station. There are currently six astronauts living on the ISS, and the problem isn’t the loss of supplies – the ISS has enough supplies to last them until next summer. The big issue is that until the Russian engineers figure out what went wrong with the Soyuz rocket, there isn’t any way to launch more astronauts before the current residents have to leave in mid-November.NASA’s space station program manager Mike Suffredini said there are plenty of options. The last resort would be to abandon the $100 billion ISS altogether, but it’s not out of the questions. Astronauts have been living on the space station since 2000 and the goal was to have astronauts on the ISS until 2020. However, the deserted space station could be operated by flight controllers indefinitely, but without anyone onboard to make sure there are no problems, the risk of anything happening is much greater.So if there are enough supplies to last until next summer, why don’t the six astronauts on board just stay there until the problem is smoothed out? Three of the six are scheduled to leave next month, and the other three are supposed to come back in mid-November. There are spacecraft and landing restrictions that can’t be broken, which means the astronauts can’t stay any longer than November. The three astronauts due to come back on September 8 have already been told that they will stay on for at least another week until the Soyuz can send up another three astronauts.Two unmanned Soyuz launches are scheduled for October. One will be commercial, and the other will attempt to bring supplies again. These two runs will serve as test flights. The ISS crews need the Soyuz-launched capsules to get back, and the capsules are only certified for no more than 6.5 months in space, which is why the crew needs to regularly rotate. As one crew comes up, another goes down.Lighting conditions at the Soyuz’s Kazakhstan landing site is also a big issue since the landings must happen at least one hour after dawn and one hour before dusk so that search and rescue operations can be performed easily if needed. According to Space.com, the “lighting window” closes for about five weeks on September 19 for the first crew and around November 19 for the second crew. If they wait past those dates, it would stretch the Soyuz’s 6.5-month lifespan past the point of safety.This was the first accident out of 44 Russian supply hauls. A crew could have very likely survived the accident due to safety precautions built into the spacecraft, but nobody wants to risk that. Until Russian space officials have come up with a cause for the accident and a repair plan, the launch and landing dates will stay up in the air, so to speak.Now that NASA’s Space Shuttle program has come to an end, it will have to rely on Russia to launch its astronauts to the ISS. Private American crew-carrying spaceships are in the works but won’t be ready until about 2015.via Space.comlast_img

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