Merritt Island, FL – One American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have been stranded on the International Space Station (ISS) in December after their spacecraft sustained damage, the three faced the prospect of being forced to spend several more months orbiting Earth awaiting rescue.
American Frank Rubio and his Russian counterparts, Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, were originally scheduled to return home from the ISS in March 2023; However, those plans were dashed last month when the Russian MS-22 Soyuz that they were about to release developed an untraceable leak after a meteorite strike, requiring them to wait several months while officials looked for their safe recovery. Let’s make a plan.
A plan was unveiled Wednesday by NASA and Russian space officials that included the launch of a second, empty Soyuz spacecraft — originally intended to shuttle a new batch of astronauts to the ISS in March but now is being repurposed as a lifeboat – that stranded space explorers could use to get home, but the plan will take some time to set up.
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This means help is on the way, but astronauts will be forced to spend more time floating around in the weightless environment of the ISS, according to NASA’s Joel Montalbano, manager of the International Space Station program.
“Right now, the crew on the space station is safe,” he said. “We’re not calling it a rescue Soyuz. I’m calling it a replacement Soyuz. There’s no immediate need for the crew to come home today.
Currently, the empty Soyuz is set to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on February 20; The reason the ship was sent unmanned is not simply to exchange one set of stranded men for another, as there would be insufficient seats for all the astronauts – the new batch and those already on station – to return home together.
It is currently unknown when Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin will depart from the ISS after the empty Soyuz finally arrives.