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NASA is considering SpaceX as a backup option for astronaut rescue after the Soyuz spacecraft leak

If necessary, a Soyuz crew who would be trapped on the ISS might be able to fly down to Earth with SpaceX, according to a report.

Following a leak from a Russian capsule, NASA is examining whether SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft can provide an alternate means for certain crew members of the International Space Station to return to Earth. When on board the ship tethered to the orbiting laboratory, a coolant leak occurred.

The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which is scheduled to return to Earth early next year with a crew of two astronauts and an American cosmonaut, suffered a ruptured cooling pipe on the exterior radiator. NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, are examining what caused the damage.

However, regular activities at the Russian space station were interrupted on December 14 due to a leak that drained the essential fluid needed to control the temperature inside the crew’s cabin, and engineers in Moscow are now debating whether to send another Soyuz to pick up the three. The crew took the damaged MS-22 on a flight to the ISS.

NASA is thinking about an alternative plan in case Russia can’t launch another Soyuz or decides it’s too dangerous.

Whether or not NASA has particular criteria for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capabilities, such as whether or not the company can discover a means to enhance the capacity of the Crew Dragon now moored to the station or launch a capsule, is unknown. If it is empty, save the crew.

According to a NASA spokesman, Sandra Jones, in a news release, “We asked SpaceX a few questions about the possibility for them to send additional crew members back to Dragon if required, but that’s not our major emphasis at this time.” A request for comment from SpaceX was not answered.

But if any arrangements are made, the company’s possible participation in a mission headed by Russia highlights the extent of the safety measures NASA is taking to guarantee that its astronauts can return to Earth safely. Another Russian backup plan fell short.

SpaceX Crew-5
SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts wear custom spacesuits prepared for them before launch. (Image credit: SpaceX)

In September, the Soyuz spacecraft carrying American astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian astronauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin launched on a six-month mission to the space station.

In March 2023, they will come back to Earth. In October, a SpaceX Crew Dragon ship hired by NASA successfully delivered four more crew members to the ISS: two more NASA astronauts, a third Russian cosmonaut, and a Japanese astronaut. All five are currently on the ISS.

NASA’s spaceflight efforts in low Earth orbit are now concentrated on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, a gum-shaped spacecraft with four crew seats.

It is the only vehicle available, except for Russia’s Soyuz program, that can carry people to and from the space station.

Determining the source of the leak may have an impact on how to dismiss crew members. NASA and Roscosmos are looking into three potential origins of the leak: a meteorite puncture, space debris impact, or hardware failure of the Soyuz spacecraft itself.

Mike Suffredini, who oversaw NASA’s ISS program from 2007 to 2015, said that a hardware malfunction may cause Roscosmos to doubt the reliability of other Soyuz spacecraft, including the one it can use to rescue the crew.

Source: BollyInside

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Written by Alex Bruno

Freelance space writer Alex Bruno specializes in covering China's quickly expanding space industry. In 2021, he started writing for SpaceXMania. He also contributes to publications including SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist. When Alex was a small child, he first experienced the space bug after seeing Voyager photographs of alien planets in our solar system. When not in space, Alex likes to go trail jogging in the Finnish countryside.

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