The SpaceX Dragon capsule is modified in orbit to bring an extra astronaut home to Earth if necessary.
On Wednesday (January 18), NASA plans to begin moving the passenger seat of agency astronaut Frank Rubio from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the Endurance, the Dragon spacecraft that operates the current SpaceX Crew-5 mission for NASA.
Both ships are docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The Soyuz, known as MS-22, lost coolant last month after an apparent impact with a micrometeorite or debris and was deemed unsuitable for astronauts to return to Earth except in an emergency. Russia plans to launch an unmanned Soyuz into an orbital laboratory on February 1. 20 to return to Earth the MS-22 crew Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Petelin.
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However, the MS-22 can still be used as a lifeboat if something bad happens to the ISS before the next Soyuz arrives. And that’s where armrest movement comes in: it’s safer for the MS-22 to carry just two astronauts instead of three, given its shackled condition.
“The change improves crew protection by reducing the thermal load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for cosmonauts Prokopiev and Petelin in the event of an emergency return to Earth,” NASA said in a statement on Friday. (will open in a new tab) (13th of January).
Endurance launched in October 2022 with just four seats installed because the Crew-5 is made up of four astronauts — NASA’s Nicole Mann and Josh Kassada, Japanese space flyer Koichi Wakata, and Russian Anna Kikina. But the Dragon pods are designed to carry up to seven people, so the Endurance has room for a Rubio if needed.
MS-22 launched to the ISS in September with a planned six-month mission. But Rubio, Prokopiev and Petelin will likely stay in orbit twice as long.
“The plan is to have Frank, Dimitri and Sergey stay on board for a few more months until they get home. [in] at the end of September,” Dina Kontella, NASA manager for the integration of operations with the ISS, said at a press conference on Tuesday (January 17).
“We are looking at the exact time of this, but for now it will be the time the car should return home,” she said.
The extension of the mission of the MS-22 crew is explained by the fact that the next Soyuz will start without a crew to return them home. If Rubio, Prokopiev and Petelin return to Earth in March on this new spacecraft, the ISS will be understaffed until the manned Soyuz is ready to launch.
The SpaceX Crew-6 mission is due to launch next month and deliver four more astronauts to the ISS. But Crew-5 will return to Earth a few days after the newcomers have boarded.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).