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NEW YORK, August 25 (Itar-Tass) — The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) may be cut from six to three members if the situation with the launch of Russia’s Progress cargo spacecraft is not clarified for a long time, head of the NASA ISS programme Michael Suffredini said on Wednesday at a special press conference at the Mission Control Centre in Houston (Texas) that focused on the Progress crash.
On Wednesday, during the flight of the Progress cargo spaceship to the ISS the Soyuz-U launch vehicle’s propulsion system had a failure that resulted in its automatic shutdown, as a result of which the ship was not placed on the target orbit.
Experts of the ISS programme at NASA immediately began to assess the possible consequences of this incident to the station and its crew. According to Suffredini, the Progress disaster can potentially affect the launching of the Soyuz manned spacecraft that use the same type of propulsion system and, accordingly, the ISS crew rotation.
Usually, the working cycle in orbit is planned for 180 days. The current crew can stay in orbit for another 40-50 days. If launches of the Progress spacecraft are not resume by this time, the ISS will be able to function with a team of three people, but it will affect the opportunities to conduct research, Suffredini noted.
He did not rule out that the scheduled for September 8 return to Earth of NASA astronaut Ronald Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyayev who arrived at the ISS in April may be delayed until the investigation of the crash causes is completed. In deciding whether to extend their stay in space their health status will also be taken into consideration. The descent module in which Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyayev are to return to Earth can be docked to the station in safe conditions for another seven months.
In addition, according to Suffredini, a decision may be made to postpone the launch of the next Soyuz manned spacecraft scheduled for September 22.
According to the NASA official, the Progress crash will not affect the work of the ISS and its crew in the short run. The station has sufficient food and water supplies for its normal operation at least until spring when the launch to the ISS of the European ATV spacecraft is expected. Logistically, the situation on the ISS is still good enough. The only thing that could theoretically cause concern are the elements of the toilet, which periodically require replacement, Suffredini said.
According to NASA, the ISS Progress 44 spacecraft and nearly 3 tonnes of supplies for the International Space Station were lost Wednesday when the launch vehicle experienced a failure during the climb to orbit. The launch took place as scheduled at 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome (7 p.m. Baikonur time). However, Mission Control Moscow reported communication with the Progress 44 was lost 5 minutes, 50 seconds after its launch.
“At 13:00 (GMT), we lifted off, following 320 seconds of flight there was a failure in the upper stage of the launch vehicle. We lost (communications) after a while with the launch vehicle and we did not report stage separation,” the Russian Mission Control Centre reported.
ISS Programme Manager Michael Suffredini held a news conference at the Johnson Space Centre discussing the loss of the resupply vehicle and the impact it may have on the program and the crew. There are plenty of supplies to support the crew, and the station is in a good configuration. However, a Russian commission will be formed to investigate the root cause of the vehicle loss which may affect upcoming Russian spacecraft launches. The Expedition 28 crew continued to prepare for the planned departure of three crew members, although the exact date of that upcoming departure is being reviewed following today’s Progress loss, and continued with science activities.
Commander Andrei Borisenko and Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyayev and Ron Garan prepared for their scheduled departure on September 7. They stowed gear on the Soyuz vehicle in which they will return to Earth. Mission managers are discussing the possibility of extending their stay on orbit to maintain six-person crew operations on the station as options for the launch of the next three crewmembers, including NASA’s Dan Burbank, are considered, NASA reported.
Borisenko and Samokutyayev also donned lower body negative pressure suits that draw body fluids towards the feet. This is standard protocol for cosmonauts preparing to return to Earth after long duration missions in space. Garan gathered personal items and clothing for stowage and disposal. Flight Engineer Mike Fossum stowed hardware from SHERE, or the Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment, after the completion of last week’s experiment runs. SHERE investigates the stress and strain response of a polymer fluid being stretched in microgravity. Fossum also cleaned up storage containers which hold experiment samples inside a science freezer, according to NASA.
Flight Engineer Sergei Volkov set up hardware for the RUSALKA experiment. Utilizing a camera and spectrum analyser RUSALKA is testing procedures that will measure levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere, the report says. Flight Engineer and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa collected water samples from the Potable Water Dispenser for in-flight processing and analysis. The water will be tested for microbe and coliform detection using tools from the Environmental Health System.