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Expert says crewless ISS poses risk of station’s loss

Following its smooth liftoff, the Soyuz’s booster malfunctioned between the first and second stages of separating, whereupon the crew was forced to abort the flight and switch to ballistic descent

MOSCOW, October 12. /TASS/. Deactivation of the International Space Station (ISS), when the current crew leaves it and the new expedition fails to arrive, is fraught with serious consequences as it poses the risk of the station’s loss, Editor-in-Chief of Cosmonautics News journal Igor Marinin told TASS on Friday.

"Such option [the station’s deactivation] has never occurred. This happened once or twice with the Mir orbital outpost and this was very dangerous. This is because any failure in the absence of a crew threatens with serious consequences. The station may even be lost. This is what happened to the Salyut-7 [Soviet space station]," Marinin said.

The expert also explained what the station’s deactivation meant. "All the devices are switched off: all the life support systems, lighting and partially heating. The temperature is lowered to avoid higher humidity. And it [the station] operates in an automatic mode."

Each cosmonaut and each astronaut studies documentation, which stipulates the option of the station’s deactivation. Such actions are stipulated both for the US and Russian segments of the ISS, the expert said.

The expert said, however, he hoped that it would be possible to avoid the scenario of the crewless ISS because if the suspension of manned flights lingers on, the current crew can stay longer in orbit and return to Earth aboard the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS.

"Simply the term of the current crew’s stay will be extended. The spacecraft has the endurance of 210 days and theoretically it can be extended to 220 days. So, the crew can be returned in February, for example, rather than in December," Marinin said.

Roscosmos official says leaving ISS crewless would be ‘undesirable’

The International Space Station may be left without a crew and leaving it unmanned is a stipulated option but specialists will try to avoid this scenario, Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov said on Friday.

"Theoretically, the ISS can be left without a crew. An unmanned mode is stipulated. We will do everything possible to prevent this because the station was created for manned flights. The procedure to deactivate the station is prescribed but it is undesirable and we will try to avoid it," Krikalyov said.

"The stay of the current crew on the space station may be extended by several days," the Roscosmos official said.

"Perhaps, we will extend the mission by several days but we can’t do this for long. We will try to speed up the launch of the next crew," he noted.

Soyuz launch incident

A Soyuz-FG carrier rocket with a manned Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft blasted off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, at 11:40 a.m. Moscow time. On board the spacecraft were Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin (the commander of the Soyuz MS-10) and NASA astronaut Nick Hague.

Following  smooth liftoff, the Soyuz’s booster malfunctioned between the first and second stages of separating, whereupon the crew was forced to abort the flight and switch to ballistic descent. The manned Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft ended up landing in the Kazakh steppe.

The press office of Russia’s Central Military District reported that rescuers recovered the crew from the descent capsule. Later, the crewmembers were examined and found to be in good condition. After their medical check-up in the town of Baikonur, the astronauts were transported to Moscow.

This is the first emergency landing with this type of carrier rocket over the past 35 years.