September 13, 2011
Russia To Return Space Station Crew This Week
Russia will return half of the crew members on board the International Space Station (ISS) later this week, although there are no immediate plans to send up their replacement, a Russian Mission Control Center official told RIA Novosti on Monday.
Two Russians and one NASA astronaut will return on board a Russian Soyuz TMA-21 capsule early Friday, and are expected to land in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 0038 GMT, the official said.
This will leave just three astronauts remaining on board the ISS, something that breaches conventional practice.
Russia had previously delayed the next manned mission to the ISS from September 22 to late October, due to a Soyuz rocket malfunction on August 24 that caused an unmanned Progress cargo vessel to crash after takeoff. The accident was the first in several decades, and raised concerns about the safety of Soyuz, which had already suffered a number of disconcerting setbacks this year.
Last week, officials attributed the August accident to a production fault in a Soyuz rocket engine, but did not specify the date of the next manned Soyuz space launch.
After the shutdown in July of the U.S. space shuttle program, Russia is now the only nation capable of transporting humans to the ISS.
If Russia fails to launch the next crew within two months, the ISS may be left abandoned for the first time in ten years, NASA officials said.
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