November 13, 2011
Manned Flights To ISS Scheduled To Resume Sunday Night
Manned Russian space flights are scheduled to resume today, with two cosmonauts and one American astronaut scheduled to depart for the International Space Station (ISS) onboard a Soyuz rocket shortly after 11pm EST this evening.
According to AFP reporter Stuart Williams, the launch, which will take place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will be "the first manned launch since the retirement of the US shuttle made Russia the sole nation capable of taking humans to the ISS," as well as "the first launch after an unmanned Progress supply vessel bound for the ISS crashed into Siberia shortly after takeoff from Baikonur in August."
That incident, which Williams called "Russia's worst space mishap in years" in a Sunday morning news report, was the result of a technical malfunction and led to a temporary grounding of all Soyuz rockets. It also forced NASA and the Russian national space agency (Roscosmos) to postpone this scheduled ISS flight, which was originally set for September 22, for more than six weeks.
A NASA official expressed confidence in the scheduled launch, which will transport Expedition 29 Flight Engineers Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin to the space station, in an interview with Kenneth Chang of the New York Times.
"The Russian commission has talked to us and explained the basis for their analysis," William H. Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA´s human exploration and operations mission directorate, told Chang on Saturday. "They´ve done everything we would do to make sure everything is fine, and we´re ready to go launch."
The launch will also come in the wake of yet another failed Russian space mission, the Phobos-Grunt probe which had been launched on November 9 but failed to fire its engines, which were to propel it to Mars.
On Saturday morning, reports surfaced that Roscosmos had been unable to re-establish communications with the craft, and had all but given up hope on preventing the $160 million satellite from plummeting back to Earth and potentially spilling toxic rocket fuel.
According to Williams, "The last manned launch from Baikonur was in June, and the problems were a major disappointment for Russia in the year marking half a century since Yuri Gagarin made man's first voyage into space from the same historic cosmodrome“¦ As well as the Progress and possibly Phobos-Grunt, Russia has lost three navigation satellites, an advanced military satellite and a telecommunications satellite due to faulty launches in the past 12 months."
Chang claims that "the future of the space station -- and, indeed, the space programs of Russia and the United States -- may be riding on the mission's success."
There are currently just three crew members -- American Mike Fossum, Japan's Satoshi Furukawa and Russia's Sergei Volkov -- living onboard the ISS, and all three of them are scheduled to depart the space station this month. Unless Sunday's launch is a success, there is a very real chance that the ISS could be without a crew for the first time in more than a decade.
According to NASA, Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are scheduled to dock at the space station at 12:33 a.m. Wednesday, just five days before Fossum, Furukawa, and Volkov plan to begin their journey home.
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