NASA and Roscosmos are developing a new plan to bring the stranded ISS crew back to Earth
There have been tense moments since the Russian Soyuz MS-22, which is docked with the International Space Station, caused a coolant leak in December. NASA and Roscosmos have declared the Soyuz unfit to bring the crew back to Earth.
Here’s what will happen instead.
NASA and Roscosmos held a joint press conference on Wednesday to detail their plans to bring NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin home. Roscosmos will launch its next planned Soyuz MS-23 mission empty so the trio can return safely to a fully intact spacecraft.
The Soyuz MS-22 will then depart the ISS unmanned as Roscosmos fears its crew compartment will become too hot and humid with the compromised cooling system.
There are currently seven people on the ISS. The three who are mounted on Soyuz MS-22 will work on the space station several months longer than planned. They were originally scheduled to return in March.
NASA launched the idea of using a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule as a backup, but that won’t be necessary if the current plan works. It will be a Soyuz exchange for Soyuz.
“We’re not calling it a rescue Soyuz,” NASA space station program manager Joel Montalbano said during the briefing. It is a “replacement Soyuz”.
Roscosmos and NASA agree that Soyuz MS-22 was likely damaged by a tiny space rock called a micrometeoroid. Sergei Krikalev, executive director of the human spaceflight program at Roscosmos, said the particle was likely about 1 millimeter in diameter.
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The spacecraft that are used to reach the ISS also act as life rafts in case of an emergency on the station. Krikalev said the MS-22 could still serve as a security system of last resort if absolutely necessary.
NASA and Roscosmos are still working on a schedule, but the Soyuz MS-23 is expected to launch on February 20. Montalbano joked that he might have to haul more ice cream to the station to reward Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin for their extended stay.
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