It has not been a good month for near-Earth space exploration. Recently, the world watched in awe as Russian spacecraft Progress 59 malfunctioned and eventually plummeted back to Earth. Now, a handful of international space explorers are stuck on the International Space Station and won’t make their planned May 13 return thanks to continued concerns over Progress 59’s catastrophic malfunction.
“The partner agencies agreed to adjust the schedule after hearing the Russian Federal Space Agency’s (Roscosmos) preliminary findings on the recent loss of the Progress 59 cargo craft. The exact dates have not yet been established, but will be announced in the coming weeks. Roscosmos expects to provide an update about the Progress 59 investigation on Friday, May 22,” NASA said in an update.
Now, NASA’s latest update has NASA’s Terry Virts, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov returning in “early June,” though no exact date has been established. NASA says rescheduling came after NASA and their international partners learned of the latest findings Russian Federal Space Agency on the loss of the Progress 59 cargo craft.
Despite the loss of fuel and supplies in the Progress 59 failure, fear not for those aboard the ISS – the next Russian cargo craft, Progress 60, will stock them with enough supplies to last them through the fall of this year. That’s if it actually makes it to the ISS, of course.
The return delays have less to do with the remaining astronauts and more to do with the next mission: Dubbed Expedition 44, the mission to the ISS was initially planned to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 26. Because Expedition 44 will be propelled by Soyuz rockets similar to those that allegedly failed on Progress 59, it’s understandable that NASA would want a full report of the findings.
Also in question is the launch of the next cargo craft by SpaceX, the private company that holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to fly at least 12 cargo missions to the ISS. As of now, the members of Expedition 43 are operating with a business as usual attitude, preparing for the departure of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, originally planned for May 21. Now it looks like the mission will launch no earlier than June 19.
For their part, the astronauts on board the ISS seem none too upset about the delay:
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) May 12, 2015