On Thursday (10/11/18), a Russian spacecraft, the Soyuz MS-10, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrone, Kazakhstan with the intention of bringing NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to the International Space Station (ISS). Not long after take-off there was a failure with one of the boosters, forcing the craft to perform a ballistic landing. Fortunately, both men appear to be unharmed.
What does this mean for the future of the ISS?
Good question. That depends on a lot of factors. Firstly, how long are Soyuz craft going to be grounded for? The ISS has a constant crew of up to six people. The crew usually spend up to six months on the station before returning to earth. This requires a continuous stream of launches in order to rotate the crew. If Soyuz can’t get new crew members up to the ISS, it’s going to be empty.
Can’t the current team just stay up there until Soyuz has their issues sorted out?
In a word, nope. The spacecraft currently docked to the ISS, designed to bring the current crew home, has a maximum work-life of 200 days, which gives them until early January, 2019. If Soyuz can’t get anyone up there by then, the ISS is going to be empty.
Are there any other options?
Kind of. But not very hopeful ones. Boeing and SpaceX both have spacecraft in the works, but neither is due to be completed until at least the middle of 2019. To make matters even worse, the SpaceX and Boeing options both require a crew on-board the space station to help them dock. Because of this, unless they can bring forward their dates of completion significantly, they simply aren’t an option. The NASA space shuttle used to be an option, but it was cut in 2011.
Is there any hope at all?
Well, the best hope would be Soyuz getting back in the sky in time. Apparently, they seem confident they’ll be able to (but they would say that). If all else fails, NASA believes the ISS could be successfully controlled from the ground; however, the risk of it being lost is significantly greater.
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