NASA considers SpaceX an emergency return option for stranded ISS crews

NASA considers SpaceX an emergency return option for stranded ISS crews

NASA considers SpaceX an emergency return option for stranded ISS crews

Three residents of the International Space Station face an uncertain future after one Russian Soyuz capsule caused dramatic coolant leak in December, that threatened the craft’s spaceworthiness. The investigation continues, but NASA is considering ways to return the stricken crew home. It’s possible that SpaceX could play a role.

NASA said in a statement last week that it “has approached SpaceX about its ability to return additional crew members aboard Dragon in an emergency, though the primary focus is on understanding the capabilities of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft after the leak.” SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin rode Soyuz MS-22 to the station last year and were scheduled to return it to Earth in March. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are investigating the cause of the leak, which may be from a small meteorite, and are evaluating how to proceed.

SpaceX has launched a series of successful Crew Dragon missions to the ISS, so it’s conceivable that it could send a spacecraft equipped to take the three crew members home. However, SpaceX makes custom suits for its Dragon riders, so it’s not as easy as just sending a spacecraft up. Any SpaceX-based rescue could also have a major impact on other planned ISS missions, such as the upcoming SpaceX Crew-6 mission due to take off in early 2023.

Other possible ways forward include using MS-22 as planned if deemed safe, or Russia could potentially send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft.

“NASA and Roscosmos continue to conduct various technical assessments and consult with other international partners on methods to safely return the Soyuz crew home for both normal and unforeseen scenarios,” NASA said. The agencies are expected to make a decision on the dilemma sometime this month.



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