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ISS Alert: Astronauts May Have to Abandon Station this Fall


Astronauts may need to temporarily abandon 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, assured AP 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 presently 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.

The Sept. 22 launch of the very next crew - the first to fly in this post-shuttle era - already has been delayed indefinitely. Russia's Soyuz spacecraft have been the sole means of getting full-time station residents up and down for two years. The capsule is parked at the station until they ride it home.

To keep the orbiting outpost with a full staff of six for as long as possible, the one American and two Russians due to return to Earth on Sept. 8 will remain on board at least an extra week. As for supplies, the space station is well stocked and could go until next summer, Suffredini said. Atlantis dropped off a year's supply of goods just last month on the final space shuttle voyage. The unmanned craft destroyed Wednesday was carrying 3 tons of supplies.

For now, operations are normal in orbit, Suffredini noted, and the additional week on board for half the crew will mean additional science research.

The Soyuz has been extremely reliable over the decades; this was the first failure in 44 Russian supply hauls for the space station. Even with such a good track record, many in and outside NASA were concerned about retiring the space shuttles before a replacement was ready to fly astronauts.
Russian space officials have set up an investigation team and until it comes up with a cause for the accident and a repair plan, the launch and landing schedules remain in question.

None of the spacecraft debris has been recovered yet; the wreckage fell into a remote, wooded section of Siberia. The third stage malfunctioned; a sudden loss of pressure apparently was noted between the engine and turbopump.

While a crew may well have survived such an accident because of safety precautions built into the manned version of the rocket, no one wants to take any chances.

One or two unmanned Soyuz launches are on tap for October, one commercial and the other another space station supply run. Those would serve as important test flights before putting humans on board, Suffredini said.

NASA considered vacating the space station before, following the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Back then, shuttles were still being used to ferry some station residents back and forth. Instead, the station got by with two-man crews for three years because of the significant cutback in supplies.

NASA wants American private companies to take over crew hauls, but that's three to five years away at best. Until then, Soyuz capsules are the only means of transporting astronauts to the space station.

Japan and Europe have their own cargo ships and rockets, for unmanned use only. Commercial front-runner Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, plans to launch a space station supply ship from Cape Canaveral at the end of November. That would be put on hold if no one is on board to receive the vessel.

Suffredini said he hasn't had time to consider the PR impact of abandoning the space station, especially coming so soon after the end of the 30-year shuttle program.

"Flying safely is much, much more important than anything else I can think about right this instant," he said. "I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to discuss any political implications if we spend a lot of time on the ground. But you know, we'll just have to deal with them because we're going to do what's safest for the crew and for the space station."

The Daily Galaxy via nasa.gov


Well I always thought that at least one shuttle should have been ready for use in emergencies,since are in perfectly good working order. But I think a lot of pressure by people in the government to have them put in museums before another one was lost somehow is why they are not flying. So now we have a 100 billion dollar useless space station that will fly around empty.

I tried to tell you. Now, die America! You created your own downfall! (perhaps dying is a bit too extreme, but wakeup, please...)

WTF darwfgalaxy, that comment you made is wrong to say the least. All 300 million of us...

dwarfgalaxy you sound like a teaparty member . They want to give america a death of a thousand cuts . Who was it that once said " a house divided cannot stand" I think that was a true and great American . Was it not?

hmmmm....checking volume 32768 of Encyclopedia Galactica..

I told those IDIOTS in Washington to keep the Space Shuttle on active standby; just in case
the Russians, couldn't deliver and supply the ISS. Did they listen? No... they never listen
to people. Their M.O., head buried in the sand or up their A**! If the next one fails,
guess what? This is why Nasa put the Robonaut on board the ISS. This was the plan
all along, to get rid of humans on board the ISS and control it via the ground by using
a Robonaut. What good is the ISS without a Space Shuttle? Rely upon a defunct Government
like Russia, for 50 million per launch? Nasa is stupid, our Government is stupid and the
people running our defunct space program are stupid.

Actually, volume 32767 states clearly that there was a 15 year interregnum before the Chinese finally started to invest heavily in sparefare, filling the gap the former leaders, the Americans, left. They never really quite came to the top again after abandoning the shuttles, did they?

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Wow DwarfGalaxy, you're pretty cool. Were you born this insensitive? Or did you have to take a class for that...

Just so you know: nasty, ignorant jackasses such as yourself always get their comeuppance. Always.

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Wow DwarfGalaxy, you're pretty cool. Were you born this insensitive? Or did you have to take a class for that...

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