The untamed space can be really scary. For ten months, an astronaut and two cosmonauts have been stranded on the International Space Station (ISS), and despite rescue efforts, the situation remains the same. What would seem like a science fiction movie, is a real-life scenario. A coolant leak in the Russian capsule on the ISS has the astronauts “stranded” in space, and a micrometeorite would be the culprit.
The trip that should’ve ended in March 2023, with the return of astronauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin (Roscosmos), and Frank Rubio (NASA), still can not be completed, due to a failure momentarily lost communication with one of the astronauts, how did it happen?
Astronauts in Space: 10 Months after the Incident
What began on September 21, 2022, as a routine mission, on December 14, would become a worldwide alert record. That night, the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked at the International Space Station (ISS) began leaking coolant uncontrollably, canceling NASA’s plans for two Russian cosmonauts to perform a routine spacewalk.
After conducting initial inspections of the vehicle to learn the source of the “suspicious leak,” the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, revealed through Sergei Krikalev, a former cosmonaut who heads the manned spaceflight program, that the incident may have been caused by a “micrometeorite” that struck the spacecraft and entered the vehicle’s external radiator.
According to Russia, the spacecraft, in which the astronauts were traveling, was intended to avoid risks in case of any problems inside the ISS, thus discarding the previous one. This new spacecraft would not only serve as an exit in case of emergency but would also function as their return vehicle to Earth.
However, with this modification, where MS-23 arrived with supplies and not with the relief crew, extending their stay for almost a year, since they would return until September 27, 2023.
What Is the International Space Station?
The International Space Station is an orbiting research center and interpretive laboratory that synthesizes the scientific expertise of 16 nations intending to maintain a permanent outpost in space. While floating some 240 miles (390 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, the space station has been home to a rotating international crew since November 2000, where astronauts spend no more than six months working and investigating space.
It is a joint project of five space agencies: NASA (United States), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Russia), the Japan Space Exploration Agency (Japan), the Canadian Space Agency (Canada), and the European Space Agency (ESA).
A large part of the work carried out on the ISS is related to maintenance, upgrades, and extensions, although a multitude of experiments are also carried out. The complex is capable of housing up to six astronauts permanently, although restrictions related to spacecraft availability (both inbound and outbound and emergency) mean that the usual crew, maintained over time, is no more than three people.
Rescue Attempt Turns Out to Be Similar
In February 2023, Russia decided on a rescue plan; however, postponed it due to a problem with another of its spacecraft. The liftoff of the Russian Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft, scheduled for February 20, was a priori postponed to the first ten days of March due to the detection of a second malfunction in another of the craft attached to the platform. Despite the seriousness of the damage, the station crew was not in any danger, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Both Roscosmos and NASA announced on February 11 that the cooling circuit of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft had suffered a depressurization. According to the space agencies, the damage was similar to that received in December by the Soyuz MS-22 personnel carrier, also tethered to the ISS, which is why they decided not to send it and to continue with the rescue plan.
An Abnormally Shaped Record
One of the astronauts trapped on the ISS could break the record for the longest time in outer space. This is astronaut and engineer Patrick Rubio, who would break the U.S. record for the longest space flight. This record belongs to Mark T. Vande Hei, who stayed on the International Space Station from April 2021 to March 2022, completing 355 days.
Patrick Rubio could reach 371 days because, as we said, the stranded astronauts would return until September 27.
This story was written in Spanish by Perla Vallejo in Ecoosfera