NASA is considering SpaceX as an emergency return option for stranded ISS crew

NASA is considering SpaceX as an emergency return option for stranded ISS crew

Three residents of the International Space Station face an uncertain future after a The Russian Soyuz capsule produced a spectacular coolant leak in December, this threatened the spacecraft’s space capability. The investigation continues, but NASA is mulling ways to get the affected crew home. It’s possible that SpaceX could play a role.

NASA said in a statement last week that “reached out to SpaceX about their ability to return additional crew members aboard Dragon if needed in an emergency, although the primary focus is on understanding the post-leakage capabilities of the Soyuz MS spacecraft -22”. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin rode Soyuz MS-22 to the station last year and were scheduled to return it to Earth in March. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are reviewing the cause of the leak, which may have been from a tiny meteorite, and are evaluating how to proceed.

SpaceX has launched a number of successful Crew Dragon missions to the ISS, so it’s conceivable that it could send a spacecraft equipped to bring the three crew members home. However, SpaceX makes custom suits for its Dragon pilots, so it’s not as simple as sending a spacecraft. Any SpaceX-based rescue may also have a significant impact on other scheduled ISS missions, such as the upcoming SpaceX Crew-6 mission scheduled for liftoff in early 2023.

Other possible ways forward could involve using MS-22 as planned if deemed safe, or Russia could send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft.

“NASA and Roscosmos continue to perform various engineering reviews and are consulting with other international partners on methods to safely bring the Soyuz crew home for both normal and contingency scenarios,” NASA said. The agencies are expected to make a decision on the dilemma sometime this month.

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