Monday, August 29, 2011

Space Station may have to be abandoned

The failure of a Soyuz rocket to send a supply ship into space last week may mean that the International Space Station will have to be temporarily abandoned for the first time since 2000, Florida Today reports.

Russian space vehicles are the only means of ferrying crews and supplies to the station now that the U.S. space shuttle program has ended.

Last week, the third-stage failure of a Soyuz rocket sent an unmanned Progress supply ship crashing into Siberia.

As a result, plans to launch a new crew to the station on Sept. 21 have been postponed indefinitely while Russian officials investigate why the rocket failed.

Mike Suffredini, NASA's program manager for the space station, says two factors could now force the temporary abandonment of the station, the newspaper reports.

First, is the imminent expiration date of the "certified orbital lifetimes" of two Soyuz "lifeboats" now attached to the station. The second involves flight rules that call for crews to return to Earth during daylight.

Three of the crewmembers aboard the station -- two Russians and an American -- have already delayed their planned Sept. 8 return by a week while the probee continues.

They will likely return before Sept. 19 -- the last daylight landing opportunity that month in the central steppes of Kazakhstan, Florida Today reports.

The next opportunity would not come until Oct. 27, about 10 days beyond the 200-day "certified orbital lifetime" of their Soyuz taxi back home.

The remaining three crew members need to return before Nov. 19 -- the last daylight landing opportunity that month.

Otherwise, the certified life of their Soyuz spacecraft will expire before the next daylight opportunity rolls around in late December, the newspaper says.

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