Nasa reaches out to SpaceX about rescue options following leak in space station’s Russian capsule

‘As a part of the analysis, Nasa also reached out to SpaceX about its capability to return additional crew members’

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 04 January 2023 07:47 GMT
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Nasa has reached out to SpaceX about rescue options after the crew aboard the International Space Station detected a leak in the Russian mission capsule that sent fluid spewing out into space.

Last month the space station crew detected an “unexplained leak” from the Russian capsule just as cosmonauts were due to begin a routine spacewalk.

The spray of fluid, described as a coolant leak, by a Nasa commentator was visible in the American space agency’s live video feed as a torrent of snowflake-like particles from the rear section of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule that had been due to take a crew back down to Earth.

A Russian space agency official said the leak was likely caused by a micrometeorite striking one of the radiators on ISS.

Nasa noted last week that it is continuing to work with the Russian agency Roscosmos to conduct engineering reviews and explore ways to safely bring the Soyuz crew home for both normal and contingency scenarios.

The Russian space agency had earlier said if analysis found that the Soyuz capsule was unfit for crewed flight, a scheduled launch of another one in March would be moved up to February.

“Our next crew ... was scheduled to fly in the middle of March,” Sergei Krikalev, who leads human spaceflight programmes at Roscosmos said, adding that it could only be “sent up a little earlier... about two, three weeks earlier is the maximum what we can do at this point.”

Nasa said it has reached out to SpaceX about its ability to return crew members.

“As a part of the analysis, Nasa also reached out to SpaceX about its capability to return additional crew members aboard Dragon if needed in an emergency,” the agency said in a statement.

However, it said the primary focus is currently on understanding the “post-leak capabilities of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft.”

Nasa spokesperson Sandra Jones also told Reuters earlier that the agency is contemplating using a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as a lifeboat.

As the space station crew keeps an eye out for safety concerns from the leak, they have also begun the new year with an array of microgravity research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Nasa noted in a blog post on Tuesday that astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS explored a range of phenomena including space nutrition, dexterous manipulation, and microbe samples collected from inside the space station.

One team is reportedly investigating the use of genetically modified microbes to provide nutrients, and potentially other compounds and pharmaceuticals, on demand in space.

Nasa Flight Engineer Frank Rubio also analyzed microbe samples collected from the station’s atmosphere and surfaces and grown in an incubator on Tuesday, which would then be returned to Earth next week on the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for further analysis.

Russian cosmonauts meanwhile analysed another set of microbe samples to understand how bacteria and fungi adapt to microgravity, while Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata from Japan’s space agency assessed samples to understand bone regeneration on Earth and in space, Nasa noted.

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