By Shakti Pandey: Days after a leak on the Soyuz spacecraft led to the cancellation of the Russian spacewalk, Moscow is considering a rescue operation to evacuate its cosmonauts from the International Space Station. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, could send an empty spacecraft to the flying lab to bring the three cosmonauts.
Roscosmos and Nasa officials in a press conference maintained that they are investigating the cause of the leak on the Soyuz spacecraft and dismissed reports of the leak to be from the Geminid meteor shower.
No final decision has been made about the precise means of flying the capsule’s three crew members back to Earth – whether by launching another Soyuz to retrieve them or by the seemingly less likely option of sending them home in the leaky capsule without most of its coolant, reported by Just News.
Russia has already hinted that the next scheduled launch of a Soyuz, which was in March could be expedited, if necessary. Roscosmos said the next Soyuz spacecraft, the Soyuz MS-23, has already undergone some of the tests in preparation for a previously scheduled March launch. It said the launch could be expedited, if necessary.
Roscosmos director Yuri Borisov told reporters Monday that specialists would analyze the ship’s condition and make a decision on how to proceed around Dec. 27. He said the hole in the Soyuz was just 0.8 millimeters (0.03 inches).
The Dec. 14 leak prompted mission controllers in Moscow to call off the spacewalk as a live NASA webcast showed what appeared to be a flurry of snowflake-like particles spewing from the rear of the Soyuz spacecraft. The leak lasted for hours and emptied the radiator of coolant used to regulate temperatures inside the crew compartment of the spacecraft.
Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin, who was suited up for the spacewalk at the time, flew to the ISS aboard the now-crippled Soyuz MS-22 capsule along with U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio in September.
They were originally due to fly back home on the same spacecraft in March, but Krikalev and Nasa’s ISS program manager, Joel Montalbano, said Roscosmos would return them to Earth two or three weeks early if Russian space officials decide to launch an empty crew capsule for their retrieval.