MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will send a new capsule next month to bring back the crews of three space stations whose original voyage was damaged, officials said on Wednesday.
Two Russians and an American will stay aboard the International Space Station for a few more months as a result of the capsule transition, possibly bringing their mission closer to a year, NASA and Russian space officials told reporters.
Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Demitri Petelin and astronaut Frank Rubio were supposed to return in March with the same Soyuz capsule they took last September. But on December 14, a small meteorite hit the capsule, creating a small hole in the outer radiator and blasting coolant into space.
Sergei Krikalev, head of manned spaceflight at the Russian Space Agency, said that unless there is an emergency at the space station, it would be too dangerous for the crew to use that capsule to return to Earth.
Although Russian engineers believe the capsule can survive reentry and land safely, the cabin temperature can reach 40 degrees Celsius (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity because it cannot dissipate heat generated by computers and other electronic devices, Krikalev said. old cosmonaut.
The new Soyuz capsule will launch from Kazakhstan on February 20, one month ahead of schedule. There will be no one on board; The head of the Russian Space Agency, Yuri Borisov, announced earlier in the day that the capsule will fly in automatic mode. The original plan was to launch this new Soyuz in March with two Russians and an American, to replace the three that were already there. These new crew will now have to wait until late summer or autumn to fly when another capsule is ready for them.
Russia will eventually return the damaged capsule with only scientific samples on board.
NASA participated in all discussions and accepted the plan.
“Right now, the crew is safe on the space station,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager. “The crew don’t need to come home right away today.”
According to Montalbano and Krikalev, backup plans are in place should an emergency, such as fire or decompression, force seven space station occupants to flee before the new Soyuz launches. NASA is considering the possibility of adding an extra crew to the SpaceX capsule currently on station.
Neither Krikalev nor Montalbano recalled a similar situation where a backup spacecraft had to be launched rapidly.
Borisov said the analysis confirmed that the leak was caused by a micrometeoroid, not a spacecraft wreck or manufacturing defect. The resulting hole was about 1 millimeter in size, or less than a tenth of an inch.
Montalbano said three crew members took the news step by step.
“I may need to find some more ice cream to reward them on future cargo deliveries,” he told reporters.
The space station is dedicated to Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio, as well as NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada; Russian Anna Kikina and Japanese Koichi Wakata. The four of them boarded a SpaceX capsule last October.
Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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