NASA and Roscosmos Assessing Conditions Inside Soyuz MS-22 During Reentry

NASA and Roscosmos Assessing Conditions Inside Soyuz MS-22 During Reentry

NASA and Roscosmos are studying data from the reentry of the damaged Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft to determine whether astronauts would have been able to survive conditions inside the capsule. Soyuz MS-22 returned to Earth empty yesterday because all of its coolant escaped into space in December and the two agencies did not want to expose the Russian-American crew to unknown risks.The crew is still aboard ISS and will return in a replacement spacecraft in September with NASA astronaut Frank Rubio setting a new American duration record of 371 days in space.

Soyuz MS-22 successfully landed in Kazakhstan yesterday at 7:46 am ET (5:46 pm local time at the landing site) after undocking from the ISS at 5:57 am ET.

In a briefing with reporters today about Boeing’s Starliner Crew Flight Test, NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano was asked about a Russian report that temperatures inside Soyuz MS-22 reached 50°C (122°F) during reentry. He acknowleded the report, but cautioned the information is not confirmed.

“We did hear the report of the 50° Celsius, but that is not what the technical team shared.” NASA is “chasing that down” with colleagues at Roscosmos and “we’ll decide as a joint team” whether they would put a crew in a Soyuz if similar conditions happen again.

CBS News space reporter Bill Harwood tweeted yesterday what he heard Mission Control Center-Moscow tell the ISS crew.

Soyuz MS-22’s thermal problems started when its coolant loop apparently was hit by a micrometeoroid on December 14 EST (December 15 Moscow Time) spewing the coolant into space just as two Russian cosmonauts were about to open a nearby hatch to begin a spacewalk.

Frank Rubio (NASA), Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos) and Dmitri Petelin (Roscosmos) launched to the ISS on Soyuz MS-22, but will return on Soyuz MS-23 after more than a year in space.

The two space agencies decided to send the next Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, to the ISS empty as a replacement so it can bring the Soyuz MS-22 crew home later this year. Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio basically are pulling a double shift, staying for 12 months instead of six.

Montalbano confirmed they will come back to Earth on September 27 after 371 days in space. Rubio will set a record for continuous time in space for an American, surpassing Mark Vande Hei’s record of 355 days. Vande Hei also ended up staying for a second tour of duty along with a Russian colleague after Roscosmos decided to send two tourists to the ISS.  They knew before they launched that might happen, however, unlike Rubio and his crewmates who are adjusting to an unexpected situation.

The question remains as to whether they could have safely returned in Soyuz MS-22 or whether the temperature and humidity not only would have been uncomfortable, but might also affect computers and other electronics. Their presence in the capsule would have added to those loads.

Montalbano said NASA and Roscosmos need time to get all the data before drawing conclusions and promised to hold another meeting with reporters “in a couple of weeks, two to three weeks” after “working with the folks at Mission Control Center-Moscow, Roscosmos, to make sure we understand the data.”

Russian space enthusiast Katya Pavlushchenko tweeted a photo of Soyuz MS-22 after it landed and cited Sergei Krikalev, the head of human spaceflight at Roscosmos, as saying the temperature was “more comfortable than in the worse scenario calculated by Roscosmos specialists.”

Harwood pointed out today that the Russian statement to the ISS crew he heard did not say it reached 50°C, but might have if the crew had been aboard.

Meanwhile, the Soyuz MS-22 crew is now the Soyuz MS-23 crew and with Soyuz MS-22’s departure Expedition 68 is over and Expedition 69 has begun. It consists of Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio along with the four Crew-6 crew members who arrived on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon earlier this month: NASA’s Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg, Roscosmos’s Andrey Fedyaev, and United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi. Prokopyev was the commander of Expedition 68 and continues as commander of Expedition 69.

The ISS has been continuously occupied by international crews rotating on roughly 4-6 month schedules for more than 22 years. Despite the grim geopolitical situation on Earth following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ISS has remained a haven of international space cooperation.

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