Everything in the world of space travel is exaggerated, from the power needed to launch rockets to—yes, that too—delaying when things go wrong. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos announced Tuesday that three current residents of the International Space Station will have to stay there for six months longer. It is very different from a train that is 10 minutes late or a scheduled flight that arrives at its destination half an hour late.
It is about Russian astronauts Sergey Prokopjev and Dmitry Petlin and their American colleague Francisco Rubio who were supposed to return to Earth next month, but they have to wait now because the spaceship they were supposed to return with has been damaged.
In December of last year, the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft suffered a leak that sounded as if someone had turned on a garden hose to put on a shower. Fat droplets float visibly from the vessel. The control leaders, who can be heard on the live broadcast from NASA, immediately spoke of a “major leak”.
A small grain of granules
The culprit turned out to be the result of the impact of a small meteorite, a tiny grain of space debris that hit Soyuz at high speed and punched a 1mm hole. This allowed coolant to escape from the radiator.
In January, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had already decided that it was no longer safe to allow cosmonauts to return to the damaged ship. The reason is that after the leak, the interior of the Soyuz can no longer be cooled, so that the internal temperature will rise to more than 40 degrees Celsius upon return. Since it was also damp in the capsule, this could have created a dangerous situation for space travelers.
Instead, Russia decided to send a replacement ship to the International Space Station. That ship, a Soyuz MS-23, will leave without a crew on board. The crippled Soyuz MS-22 will depart with only payload on board that is not sensitive to the high temperature and humidity during re-entry.
The departure of the Soyuz replacement jet was originally scheduled for last weekend, but was delayed earlier this month when a Russian unmanned cargo ship on the International Space Station also suddenly leaked coolant.
Roscosmos then conducted an additional investigation on the Soyuz variant to be sure. The agency concluded that there was no reason to consider a structural problem in the cooling systems of its spaceships. Without further delay, the new Soyuz will depart for the International Space Station on Friday.
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