Space station crew members Sergei Volkov, Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev, Ron Garan, Satoshi Furukawa (blocked) and Mike Fossum, pictured left to right, end their joint activities aboard the orbiting science lab. Photo Credit/NASA TV
Human activities aboard the International Space Station will continue uninterrupted, NASA managers announced Sept. 15, as three of the six U. S., Russian and Japanese astronauts living aboard the orbiting science laboratory departed for Earth in the Soyuz 26 spacecraft.The prospect of a temporary de-staffing of the station in late November has loomed since the Aug. 24 loss of the Progress 44 cargo mission that triggered an investigation into the failure of the Soyuz-U launcher's third stage.
On Sept. 15, the Space Station Control Board approved plans for the launching of three U. S. and Russian replacements on Nov. 14, or eight days before the remaining members of the current crew are scheduled to descend in their Soyuz 27 capsule."Our Russian colleagues have completed an amazing amount of work in a very short time to determine the root cause and develop a recovery plan that allows for a safe return to flight," Mike Suffredini, NASA Space Station Program manager, said in statement following the control board session.
"The plan approved today, coupled with the conditions on orbit, allow the partnership to support this priority while ensuring astronauts will continue to live and work on the station uninterrupted."The control board meeting included a briefing from Russian investigators, who blamed the Progress loss earlier on a premature shutdown of the Soyuz-U booster's third stage linked to a manufacturing flaw.
The Soyuz-FG, which launches station crews, uses a third stage similar to the cargo version of the rocket.The recovery plan includes the Oct. 30 launching of an unpiloted Soyuz with the Progress 45 supply ship that will serve as a test flight.
On Sept. 15, Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan departed the station at 8:38 p.m., EDT, in their Soyuz 26, marking the end of Expedition 28. Their descent into southern Kazakhstan was expected to bring them to a touchdown under parachute on Sept. 16 at midnight, or 10 a.m., local time, after a 164-day voyage.
As they undocked, command of the station shifted from Borisenko to American Mike Fossum. Fossom, Russian Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan have extended their stay by six days, or until Nov. 22, under the new scheduling plan.
Prior to the Progress loss, they were to be joined on Sept. 23 by Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov and American Dan Burbank. Their mission was postponed indefinitely after the Progress crash.The latest re-scheduling extends three-person station operations until their Soyuz 28 docks on Nov. 16, two days after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.The Soyuz 29 mission with Russian Oleg Kononenko, American Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, of The Netherlands, is tentatively scheduled to lift off on Dec. 26, about a month later than initially planned.