NASA: Russian Rocket Failure Could Force Temporary Abandonment Of ISS

The International Space Station could end up without a crew for awhile. NASA says if Russian investigators aren't able to pin down, and correct, what caused last week's crash of an unmanned supply vehicle within the next two months, then all six crew members may have to come back to earth. The rocket that failed in the cargo mission is the same one used in the manned Soyuz missions. In the meantime, it's business as usual on the space station.

NASA says despite the loss of the cargo ship, the six-person crew is in no danger of running out of food, water, or any other essential supplies.  The September 8th Soyuz mission that would have swapped out three crew members has been postponed. 

Space station manager Michael Suffredini says the three astronauts who are set to return will stay another week or so.  They'll use a Soyuz capsule already at the station to come back to Earth by September 18th. 

"And this gets us up all the point where we lose light at the landing site.  We want to make sure that when we bring the crews home, the search-and-rescue team has a lit opportunity to spot the crew as they come down."

Soyuz
(28 June 2010) The Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft

If Soyuz flights do not resume by the middle of November, then the three remaining crew members will also have to leave.  They must come back before the weather in Kazakhstan gets too rough, and before their return capsule reaches the end of its certified shelf life. 

Station manager Suffredini says NASA can keep the station in orbit if it's temporarily abandoned.

"Everything we need to do we can do by commanding on the ground.  We can re-supply prop.  We can do the debris-avoidance maneuvers.  We can lose a couple of gyros before we get too worried, especially when we're in an unmanned configuration, flying the attitude that's best for stability.  So we have some margin in those systems, as well."

Suffredini says if there's anything positive to come out of the failure of the supply mission, it's that it didn't happen when the same type of rocket was attached to a Soyuz trip.  Also, the ISS crew gets another week to work on various research projects.

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