An unmanned Soyuz rocket was destroyed last week during launch. The vehicle was carrying 3 tonnes of supplies destined for the International Space Station. The Soyuz rockets which carry astronauts to the ISS are similar to the rocket that crashed.
Until Russian space officials investigate and determine the cause of the accident and formulate a repair plan, all Soyuz rockets will remain grounded pending results of the investigation. This means there will be no way to launch any more astronauts to the Space Station before the current residents have to leave. Three Russian astronauts, two Americans and one Japanese are presently living on the space station. One of the Americans and two Russians are due to leave next month – the other three are returning to Earth in mid-November. Two Soyuz capsules are currently docked at the station to take the six astronauts home. The capsules are only certified to be in space for six and a half months thus the need to regularly rotate ISS crews.
Since NASA retired the space shuttle program, the Soyuz rockets are the only way for people to travel to the space station. The Soyuz, dating back to the 1960s, has been a reliable workhorse for the Russian space program. This was the Russian rocket’s first failure in 44 supply hauls for the International space station.
If the space station is abandoned, NASA’s space station program manager Mike Suffredini, said flight controllers on the ground could keep the space station operating indefinitely, as long as all major systems were working properly. The risk to the station goes up, however, if no one is on board to fix equipment breakdowns.
Abandoning the space station, even for a short period, would be an unpleasant last resort for the world’s five space agencies that have spent decades working on the project. Astronauts have been living aboard the space station since 2000, and the goal is to keep it going until 2020.