Space travel can be dangerous. In fact, it is almost an active rebellion against the lurking danger. In the history of human space travel, this was never more evident than during the infamous ill-fated flight of Apollo 13. An explosion of oxygen some 56 hours into the mission threatened the mission and the lives of the crew, leading to a tense return trip involving slingshot Hail Mary around the Moon. . This true-to-life story of heroism is captured at the edge of space in perhaps the best space movie ever made, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.
With Artemis I in the history books, and Artemis II and III on the horizon, the potential risks of returning to the Moon are in the air, but things could go wrong even closer to home. This is a fact we were all reminded of when a leak aboard the International Space Station’s Soyuz capsule was discovered on Wednesday. Roscosmos launched Soyuz MS-22 from Russia on September 21 and transported cosmonaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin to the station. They have been docked there, and have been attached to the Rassvet unit, ever since and their trip home was planned for March next year. That was before coolant started leaking from the outer radiator cooling loop.
The astronauts were preparing for a space walk Wednesday night, already stationed in the airlock, when pressure sensors alerted the crew to the leak. The Space Walk is canceled in favor of the leak investigation. The cause was not investigated and the crew was unable to stop the leak from inside the station, despite efforts with external robotic arms. The leak eventually stopped, after about three hours, when the leaking coolant finally ran out. According to a statement from NASA, none of the crew members were in any immediate danger.
Aside from the planned spacewalks, operations inside the station continued as normal, with the astronauts conducting planned science experiments. Meanwhile, specialists continue to investigate the leak and study Soyuz. Although no one on board the station is in any immediate danger, there are concerns about planned EVAs, whether the Soyuz can be used to return astronauts to Earth or if they need a replacement, and what to do in the event of an emergency onboard. International Space Station .
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Standard directive is that there should never be more crew aboard the station than can fit inside the return ships. Basically, the number of occupants in the boat should not exceed the lifeboats provided. Currently, there is a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule docked at the station with room for four people, but there are seven crew members aboard the station.
Yesterday, a senior Russian official indicated that the leak may have been caused by a micrometeor strike, as reported by Reuters. This wouldn’t be the first time the station had received a hit from something small, fast and powerful. It’s not even the first time in recent memory. Just last year, a piece of space junk slammed into the station, damaging its robotic arm.
At the moment, it is not clear if Soyuz will be suitable for the return trip. According to Ars Technica, there are concerns that computers could overheat in flight as the cooling coil stops working. These computers are required for precise re-entry, and without them, the Soyuz spacecraft would have to be manually piloted, potentially landing the astronauts far from the target.
There was also concern that without the coolant, the Soyuz would overheat from direct exposure to the sun, but instrument readings confirmed this was not the case. For now, it appears that the capsule maintains temperatures within acceptable limits and is probably safe for transporting astronauts and cosmonauts back to Earth, even if the conditions for that return aren’t ideal.
If Apollo 13 taught us anything—and it taught us a lot—it’s that space travel is risky, but humanity explores, innovates, innovates, and iterates. We may take a few punches, but we persevere.
For more true stories from beyond Earth’s borders, check out Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan’s story in The Last Man on the Moon, streaming on Peacock!
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