Russia is developing a new contingency plan for the damaged space capsule crew

A stream of particles, which NASA says appears to be a liquid and possibly a coolant, is pouring from the International Space Station’s Soyuz spacecraft, forcing two Russian cosmonauts to delay a planned routine spacewalk on December 14, 2022 (NASA TV)

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Russia’s space agency Roscosmos announced new contingency plans Saturday for the three-member crew from a damaged capsule docked at the International Space Station, saying the American member of the trio will return to Earth in a separate SpaceX ship if they need to evacuate in the next few weeks.

The Soyuz MS-22 capsule, which serves as a lifeboat for the crew, leaked coolant last month after a small meteorite — a small particle of space rock — hit it, punching a small hole and causing the temperature inside to rise.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and NASA said this week that a new spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, will be launched next month to bring back astronauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin and US astronaut Frank Rubio. But it won’t dock with the International Space Station until February 22.

Roscosmos said Saturday that, due to the possibility of a previous emergency, the Rubio seat was moved from MS-22 to the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is also docked at the International Space Station.

“If an emergency evacuation is necessary, Francisco Rubio will return to Earth on the (crew Dragon), and the Roscosmos astronauts (will return) aboard Soyuz MS-22,” she added.

“It will be safer to disembark two astronauts instead of three, as this will help reduce the temperature and humidity of Soyuz MS-22.”

The mission was due to end in March, but now the plan is to extend it by several months and bring the three men home aboard MS-23. The latter was scheduled to accommodate three new crew members in March, but instead will launch empty next month for docking with the International Space Station.

There are currently four more crew members on the orbital station – two more from NASA, a third Russian cosmonaut and a Japanese astronaut, all of whom arrived in October aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

Relations between Russia and the United States have been poisoned by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but the two countries continue to work closely together on the International Space Station, an orbiting laboratory located 250 miles above Earth that has been continuously occupied for two decades.

However, Russia said it plans to abandon the old project after 2024 and launch its own station.

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