NASA Mulls Using SpaceX to Rescue Astronauts After Russia’s Space Station Leak


On Dec. 15, NASA and its astronauts faced a scary situation when a Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked to the International Space Station sprung a massive coolant leak, shortly before a spacewalk was set to commence by a pair of Russian cosmonauts. The crew on board is safe and not in any immediate danger, but two cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut were supposed to use the Soyuz vehicle to return back to Earth early next year. With the spacecraft’s status in limbo, NASA and Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) have been trying to figure out their options for how to move forward.

To that end, NASA is pondering one contingency plan: using a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to effectively rescue the stranded astronauts in the coming months.

“International Space Station teams continue to meet about the Soyuz MS-22’s external cooling loop leak,” a NASA spokesperson told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement. “NASA and Roscosmos will continue to review options together before making a final decision on how to safely bring the crew home. The Expedition 68 crew remains in good condition, performing maintenance and research activities.

“Additionally, we have asked SpaceX a few questions on their capability to return additional crew members on Dragon if necessary but that is not our prime focus at this time.”

SpaceX did not answer The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.

Russia’s Spacecraft Springs a Massive Leak on the ISS

It’s unclear yet exactly what a SpaceX mission would entail. A Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavor) is already docked to the ISS, and theoretically more seats could be added to that mission when it is supposed to come back to Earth next year. But that mission is already filled up with four people: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Another option would be for NASA to prioritize a new SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to the ISS specifically to pick up the three crew members who were supposed to come back on Soyuz: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin.

Inside the Dangerous Consequences of Russia’s Space Screwups

The loss of coolant means the current Soyuz capsule is seeing huge spikes in temperature. NASA has said the capsule’s temperatures remain “within acceptable limits,” and is being cooled with vented air flow allowed from an open hatch to the rest of the ISS. But it seems almost impossible to imagine the capsule could still be used to ferry humans back to Earth.

The cause of the Soyuz leak remains unknown. An investigation found a hole in the radiator exterior, which may have been caused by a micrometeoroid or tiny piece of orbital debris. A hardware failure may also be to blame—which would only add more scrutiny to Roscosmos’s increasing space screwups.

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