Empty Spacecraft to Replace Damaged One


International Space Station | Image by Dima Zel/Shutterstock

An empty spacecraft will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to replace a damaged one, according to Wednesday announcements from the United States and Russia.

Government Technology reported that the crew members, who are not in any immediate danger, will stay at the space station for a few additional months.

“Space is not a safe place and not a safe environment,” Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human space flight programs for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said in a statement.

“That’s why before every flight, before we actually start to fly out to the station, we have several teams working together developing emergency procedures. We were thinking about this scenario even before we started to fly.”

The crew members will remain on the ISS because the Russian Soyuz capsule, which brought them there, was damaged by a micrometeorite, 1 millimeter in diameter.

The damage was first reported in December when cosmonauts were preparing for a spacewalk and ground crews noticed fluid leaking from the spacecraft, parked 250 miles above Earth. The spacewalk was postponed while the leak was investigated.

The Russian ground crew concluded that using the original shuttle would cause temperatures to be uncomfortably high — between 90 and 100 degrees and humid — due to the leaking coolant.

This will be the first time in the 60 years of human space exploration that a spacecraft is launched to replace a damaged one.

Russia said it plans on launching the replacement shuttle in late February. The crew will have to move hardware, including seat liners and spacesuits, from the damaged shuttle to the new one.

The damaged shuttle will then be sent back to Earth, along with experiments and equipment.

NASA scientists plan on using the remains of the damaged shuttle to collect data in case the situation should arise again.

“We’ll be taking some temperature measurements to measure how the vehicle does,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s International Space Station program manager, said in a statement.

“We’re going to fully use this vehicle all the way until it lands.”

The astronauts on the space station usually rotate every six months.

Since the shuttle arriving in February will be empty, however, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will stay onboard until another spacecraft can be launched with their replacements.

“The awesome thing about our crews is they’re willing to help wherever we ask,” Montalbano said. “I may have to fly some more ice cream to reward them.”

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