NASA is thinking about using SpaceX to rescue astronauts after the Russian space station leak

NASA is thinking about using SpaceX to rescue astronauts after the Russian space station leak

NASA is thinking about using SpaceX to rescue astronauts after the Russian space station leak

On Dec. 15, NASA and its astronauts faced a scary situation when a The Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked to the International Space Station caused a massive coolant leak, shortly before a spacewalk was to begin by a pair of Russian cosmonauts. The crew on board is safe and in no immediate danger, but two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut are expected to use the Soyuz vehicle to return to Earth early next year. With the status of the spacecraft in limbo, NASA and Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency) have been trying to find their options for moving forward.

To that end, NASA is considering one contingency plan: to use a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to effectively rescue the stranded astronauts in the coming months.

“International space station teams continue to meet over the Soyuz MS-22 external cooling loop leak,” a NASA spokesperson told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement. “NASA and Roscosmos will continue to review options together before making a final decision on how to get the crew home safely. The crew of Expedition 68 is in good condition and conducting maintenance and research activities.

“In addition, we’ve asked SpaceX a few questions about their ability to return additional crew members on Dragon if needed, but that’s not our main focus at this point.”

SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

It is not yet clear what exactly a SpaceX mission entails. A Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavor) is already docked to the ISS, and theoretically more seats could be added to that mission when it should return to Earth next year. But that mission is already filled with four people: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Another option would be for NASA to prioritize another SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to the ISS specifically to pick up the three crew members who would return to Soyuz: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin .

The loss of coolant means that the current Soyuz capsule is experiencing huge temperature spikes. NASA has said the capsule’s temperature remains “within acceptable limits” and is cooled with vented airflow allowed from an open hatch to the rest of the ISS. But it seems almost impossible to imagine that the capsule could still be used to return humans to Earth.

The cause of the Soyuz leak remains unknown. An investigation found a hole in the outside of the radiator, possibly caused by a micrometeoroid or a small piece orbital debris. A hardware failure could also be to blame, which would just add more control The increasing space problems of Roscosmos.

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