Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Russian Rocket Failure Shouldn’t Force Space Station Evacuation, NASA Tells Lawmakers

The International Space Station likely won't have to be evacuated despite the recent failure of a Russian rocket launched toward the orbiting lab, a panel told U.S. lawmakers Oct. 12 on Capitol Hill.

On Aug. 24, Russia's Progress 44 cargo vessel crashed in Siberia after the third stage of its Soyuz rocket failed. That rocket is similar to the one NASA and other space agencies depend on to loft astronauts, raising doubts about whether the issue could be fixed in time for a new crew to get to the station before its three remaining residents depart for Earth on Nov. 22.

A Russian commission recently pinpointed the Soyuz problem as a quality-control issue, not a major design flaw. And an independent NASA team agrees with that assessment, officials announced today, meaning the next manned Soyuz launch should take place as planned on Nov. 14.

That time frame would keep the orbiting outpost staffed, giving the new three-person crew about five days to learn the ropes from the departing space flyers.

"NASA's confident that our Russian partners identified the most likely failure cause and has a sound return-to-flight plan," Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, told members of the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology. more