Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS: Coolant has apparently escaped through a leak
Photo: Sergei Korsakov / AP
A spaceship as a death trap?
Actually, two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut were supposed to return to Earth on board a Soyuz capsule in March.
Exactly this capsule brought the astronauts Sergei Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and Frank Rubio to the International Space Station ISS in September.
But now it is damaged.
Video footage from mid-December shows a leak of coolant.
If the three astronauts boarded the capsule for their return flight as planned, they could die of overheating.
Does SpaceX have to step in?
The Russian space agency Roskosmos is therefore already working on a rescue plan (read more about this here).
But Nasa does not seem to want to rely on this alone and is considering using a Dragon spacecraft from the private space company SpaceX for the return flight.
"We asked SpaceX a few questions about bringing additional crew members back with Dragon if needed," Nasa spokeswoman Sandra Jones said.
However, that is not the main focus at the moment.
Apparently, Nasa continues to hope that Roskosmos can solve the problem.
It is conceivable that the planned start of the next Soyuz spacecraft will be pushed forward in order to bring the astronauts safely to earth.
The spacecraft would then be sent into space without a crew.
In the event that this does not work or is considered too risky, it is now being checked whether SpaceX could step in in an emergency.
Collapsing in the spaceship?
It is unclear whether SpaceX should possibly accommodate more astronauts in the Dragon capsule, which is currently docked at the ISS - or whether another spacecraft should be sent to bring the three astronauts back to Earth.
The rescue plans also depend not least on research into the causes in space.
Several possibilities are currently being discussed as to how the leak could have occurred.
A mini-meteorite or space debris could have hit the capsule.
A hardware error is also possible.
In this case, it would have to be fixed before another Soyuz capsule docks with the ISS.
The temperature in the Soyuz capsule is currently in an "acceptable range," according to NASA.
An open hatch to the ISS ensures sufficient airflow.
However, if the hatch is closed, the temperature inside the capsule would rise quickly, said Sergei Krikalev, head of Russia's manned space program.
At the beginning of next year, the decision should be made on how the astronauts should return to earth.