February 4, 2023

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NASA is considering SpaceX as an emergency return option for stranded International Space Station crew

Three residents of the International Space Station face an uncertain future A Russian Soyuz capsule has revealed an interesting coolant leak In December, this threatened the spacecraft’s worthiness. The investigation is ongoing, but NASA is considering ways to bring the affected crew home. SpaceX could play a role.

NASA said in a statement last week It has “communicated with SpaceX about its ability to return additional crew members aboard Dragon if needed in an emergency, although the primary focus is understanding Soyuz MS-22’s post-spill capabilities.” SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin rode the Soyuz MS-22 to the station last year and were scheduled to return it to Earth in March. NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos are reviewing the cause of the leak, possibly from a small meteorite, and are evaluating how to proceed.

SpaceX has launched a series of successful Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station, so it’s possible it could send a spacecraft equipped to bring the three crew members home. However, SpaceX makes custom suits for its Dragon riders, so it’s not as simple as simply sending up a spacecraft. Any rescue that relies on SpaceX could also have a significant impact on other scheduled International Space Station missions, such as the upcoming SpaceX Crew-6 mission scheduled for launch as early as 2023.

Other possible ways forward could include using MS-22 as planned if it is considered safe, or Russia could send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft.

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“NASA and Roscosmos continue to conduct a variety of engineering reviews and consult with other international partners on ways to safely return the Soyuz crew home in both normal and emergency scenarios,” NASA said. The agencies are expected to decide on the dilemma sometime this month.