A ride to Earth: SpaceX's »Dragon« capsule at the International Space Station
Photo: Uncredited / SpaceX / dpa
After a leak was discovered on a Russian Soyuz capsule, the US space agency Nasa selected a "Crew Dragon" docked at the ISS as a temporary emergency spacecraft.
That was decided after discussions with its operator SpaceX, Elon Musk's private space company, in the event of an unforeseen emergency, NASA said at a press conference on Tuesday.
In principle, however, the plan is still that the three astronauts - the two cosmonauts Sergei Prokopjew and Dmitri Petelin and the NASA astronaut Frank Rubio - should fly back to earth from the International Space Station ISS with a replacement spacecraft.
This is likely to take place in late September - instead of March as originally planned.
The three astronauts came to the ISS in the Soyuz MS-22 capsule last September.
A leak was discovered on the capsule in December, which experts believe was caused by the impact of a micrometeorite.
Spectacular images broadcast by Nasa TV showed a jet of white flakes spraying into space from the capsule on the space station.
Apparently, liquid leaked uncontrolled and under high pressure from a cooling system of the spaceship.
Actually, the cosmonauts Prokopjev and Petelin were supposed to complete an external mission at the ISS at about the same time.
Both had already donned their space suits and were in the vacuum airlock.
But the mission was canceled - the risk that the astronauts could come into contact with the liquid was too great.
Now, on February 20, the Soyuz MS-23 is to be sent to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as a replacement spacecraft.
Then, after some rearranging work, the Soyuz MS-22 should fly back to earth unmanned.
In addition, "Crew 6" - consisting of two US astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates - is to start from the USA to the ISS between mid and late February.
Shortly thereafter, "Crew 5" - NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata - will return to Earth.
Since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine in February last year, space has been one of the few areas where Russia and the US are still cooperating.
The ISS has been in operation since 1998 and is nearing the end of its life cycle.
The USA, Europe and Japan are currently committed to using it until 2030. NASA recently announced that it wanted to crash the ISS in the South Pacific in January 2031 in a controlled manner.
Then a lot of money could literally be sunk in the sea: The total cost of the “most expensive man-made object” according to the Guinness Book of Records is estimated at up to 150 billion US dollars.