NEW YORK, September 7 (Itar-Tass) — The next launch of Russia’s manned spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) can be carried out in early November this year, NASA astronaut Michael Fossum said on the ISS on Tuesday during a press conference organised by the Mission Control Centre in Houston (Texas).
As a result of the August 24 Progress spacecraft crash as a result of abortive launch, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had to revise the ISS rotation schedule.
It is planned preliminarily that the launch of the next manned ship will be carried out on November 2, Fossum said, noting that the investigation into the causes of the failure of the propulsion system during the Progress blast-off continues. Several stages will be passed before the manned spacecraft launch: determining the cause of the failure, fixing the malfunction and one or two test launches using one and the same propulsion system, the astronaut explained.
Michael Fossum also noted that the ground services have started preparations for a possible operation of the ISS in an unmanned mode, however, no measures have been so far taken in orbit for this.
Given that the investigation is still ongoing, “there are a lot of things that have to stack up” to allow for an early November launch, said Michael Fossum. He said he and his two crewmates will leave the space station in the best possible condition if it must be vacated, The Associated Press reported.
“The teams in Houston are in the preliminary stages of deciding everything, from what ventilation we’re going to leave running, what lights we’re going to leave on, what condition each particular experiment will be on, every tank, every valve, every hatch,” Fossum said. He added: “It’ s too early for us to get too worried about that frankly. It will take us a few weeks to finish that up, but we have another nine or so weeks here, my crew of three. So we’ve got plenty of time for those kinds of things.”
Astronauts have been living aboard the station, without interruption, for almost 11 years.
With NASA’s space shuttles retired as of July, the Soyuz is the only means of getting astronauts to and from the space station. Private US companies hope to provide an alternative in three to five years. These commercial rocket makers will start with cargo runs — possibly by year’s end — and build from there, according to AP.
At best, Fossum and his two crewmates — one Japanese and one Russian — will have less time than usual to brief their replacements face to face. They’re already videotaping some instructions. At worst, the newcomers will have to make do with the videotapes, with no one on board to greet them and fill them in on the workings of the sprawling lab. None of the three has lived on the space station before; in fact, two will be new to space.
“The space station does require some care and feeding, and so it’s important for us to be here if we possibly can,” Fossum said. “If that’s not possible and we have to shut it down for a little while, we’re going to do our best to leave it in the best possible condition to make it through that down time, and have it prepared for the next crew to open the doors, turn on the lights and come on aboard.”
US astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. pointed out that science experiments still “are going full speed ahead.” “We are breaking records every week with the number of hours” devoted to scientific research, he said.
That pace will diminish, however, as soon as Garan and his two Russian crewmates return to Earth in their Soyuz capsule next week. That’s why the participating space agencies are so eager to keep six astronauts on board; it takes that many pairs of hands to keep the space station humming and experiments going, according to AP.
The return to Earth if three astronauts from the ISS crew - Russians Andrei Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyayev and NASA astronaut Ronald Garan is scheduled by the US and Russian space agencies for September 16. The return of the other three members of the ISS crew - Sergei Volkov, Michael Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa – is so far scheduled, as before for mid-November. However, it should take place before November 19 to occur during daylight hours.