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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
NASA: Space station may be evacuated by late November!
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August 30, 2011 / AP via PTI, Cape Canaveral (US) / DC.
This file photo released by NASA, shows the International Space Station flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, in an image taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking - AP.
Astronauts may need to temporarily abandon the International Space Station this fall if last week's Russian launch accident prevents new crews from flying, a NASA official said on Monday.
If Russia's essential Soyuz rockets remain grounded beyond mid-November, there will be no way to launch any more astronauts before the current residents are supposed to leave, said NASA's space station programme manager, Mike Suffredini. A space station supply ship was destroyed last week following liftoff from Kazakhstan.
The failed upper stage of the Soyuz rocket is similar to what's used to launch astronauts.
The launch of the very next crew already has been delayed. It had been scheduled for September 22.
To keep the orbiting outpost with a full staff of six for as long as possible, three of the current residents will remain in orbit for at least an extra week. They were supposed to return to Earth on September 8.
Suffredini said flight controllers could keep a deserted space station operating indefinitely, as long as all major systems are working properly. But that's always the last resort: The risk to the space station goes up if no one's on board to fix potential equipment breakdowns.
"We have plenty of options," Suffredini said. "We'll focus on crew safety as we always do."