NASA's ISS Head Remains Confident In Russian Space Program
February 4, 2012

NASA’s ISS Head Remains Confident In Russian Space Program

Despite multiple glitches, accidents, and equipment failures in recent months, a NASA representative told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. space agency still had confidence in the Russian space program and specifically the Soyuz rockets used to transport crew and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

According to Associated Press (AP) reporter Seth Borenstein, NASA's space station program manager Michael Suffredini called the Soyuz rocket the most reliable space system on the planet during a February 2 conference call with the media -- despite the recent delay of upcoming launches due to the discovery of a leak in one of the capsules that serves as the sole means of transport for ISS-bound American astronauts.

Irene Klotz of Reuters reported that the capsule, which was set to launch to the orbiting research laboratory on March 29, was "inadvertently over-pressurized during testing, rendering it unsuitable for flight." As a result, replacement crew will now not be able to depart for the ISS until mid-May, according to what Suffredini told reporters.

"This particular event is very unfortunate, but this is a complicated business and things happen," the NASA representative said during the teleconference, Klotz reported. "To me, this is not indicative of some over-arching problem“¦ I do not know the cause--it could have been regulators, it could have been human error“¦ But I have every confidence that they'll figure out the cause of this and rectify it for the future."

As a result of the delay, the six crew members currently onboard the ISS will be required to remain there for a few extra weeks, according to the AP. Station commander Dan Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin are expected to remain in orbit until the end of April, while American Don Petit, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian Oleg Konenko, will not depart the station until late June.

The Soyuz failure also delayed the next scheduled launch of a Russian federal space agency (Roscosmos) Progress resupply vehicle to April 20, James Dean of Florida Today said. As a result, an unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule, which is tentatively set to launch in early April, could wind up making it to the space station before its Russian counterpart, Suffredini reportedly said during the conference call.

"Once targeting a launch of its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station next week, the company now has a tentative March 20 launch date reserved for the demonstration flight," Dean said. "Suffredini said the first week of April looked more realistic as engineers try to close out a range of technical issues with the Dragon, which is flying for the second time."

"Those include an electromagnetic interference issue, ensuring propellant tanks are properly insulated while docked at the station, engine delamination and adjusting flight software to improve real-time operations," he added. "A practice fueling of the Falcon 9 and test firing of its nine first-stage engines also must be performed."

SpaceX is expected to set an official date within the next two weeks, Borenstein said.


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