Astronauts might have to abandon International Space Station
Astronauts may need to take the unprecedented step of temporarily abandoning the International Space Station if last week’s Russian launch accident prevents new crews from flying there this fall.
Until officials figure out what went wrong with Russia’s essential Soyuz rockets, there will be no way to launch any more astronauts before the current residents have to leave in mid-November.
The predicament comes just weeks after NASA’s final space shuttle flight.
“We have plenty of options,” NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, told reporters Monday. “We’ll focus on crew safety as we always do.”
Abandoning the space station, even for a short period, would be an unpleasant last resort for the world’s five space agencies that have spent decades working on the project. Astronauts have been living aboard the space station since 2000, and the goal is to keep it going until 2020.
Suffredini said flight controllers could keep a deserted space station operating indefinitely, as long as all major systems are working properly. The risk to the station goes up, however, if no one is on board to fix equipment breakdowns.
Six astronauts from three countries are living on the orbiting complex. Three are due to leave next month; the other three are supposed to check out in mid-November. They can’t stay any longer because of spacecraft and landing restrictions.
And, in case you, like me, had no idea there had even been an incident involving an unmanned Russian spacecraft, that information is available here.