Some additional manned Soyuz missions are being prepared after NASA requested extra rides to the International Space Station (ISS), amid uncertainties surrounding US-made manned vehicles, Russia’s space chief has announced.
According to Dmitry Rogozin, his NASA counterpart Jim Bridenstine has asked Moscow to allocate extra rides on board its Soyuz spacecraft and Russia has made some adjustments to provide for the US need. Some of the planed Soyuz missions will have mixed crews rather than Russian-only, he said. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has also ordered two additional Soyuz capsules, one of which may be needed to meet NASA’s logistical demand.
“We will do our best to help our American colleagues, trim down our crews,” Rogozin said, adding that the change will likely force Russia to alter its plans for scientific research on the ISS.
The news doesn’t come as a surprise. Bridenstine had earlier said it was “highly likely” that NASA would request at least one additional seat from Russia.
“We have almost 20 years – we are entering our 20th year – of operating the International Space Station, the entire time having an American on board, and we don’t want to break that record,” the NASA administrator told Spaceflight Now. “We want to make sure that we have an American on-board.”
The US started buying Russian rides to the ISS after retiring the Space Shuttle program in 2011. A replacement was expected to be ready as soon as 2015, but NASA encountered a string of delays as it fought for funding at the US Congress and waited for the development of new manned vehicles – Boeing’s Starliner and Space X’s Crew Dragon.
Both are currently being tested for mission-abort systems, with NASA hoping to have an independent human space flight capability in the first half of 2020. Bridenstine said buying the Russian seats is a backup plan for the agency.
NASA has already replaced Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who’d been slated to take the last paid ride on board the Soyuz MS-16 in March 2020, with Chris Cassidy. The Soyuz MS-17 mission, which is scheduled for October 2020, was supposed to be the first with a fully-Russian crew. The alteration means that Stephen Bowen, NASA’s backup crew member for the MS-16, is expected to take one of the three seats.