NASA astronauts added a fifth seat to SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance to "provide lifeboat capabilities" in case of an emergency at the International Space Station (ISS), after the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft experienced a coolant leak. Soyuz MS-22 transported Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin, alongside United States NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who launched on Soyuz as part of a diplomatic barter agreement between Russia’s Roscosmos Space Agency and NASA. The trio has been working at the orbiting laboratory since September 2022 and their mission was scheduled to end by March 2023. However, on December 14, 2022 the Soyuz MS-22 capsule started to leak coolant while docked to the ISS Rassvet module which delayed their return to Earth. They cannot return aboard the capsule because the coolant was vital to regulating the Soyuz’s cabin high temperature upon atmospheric reentry.
Russia plans to launch the uncrewed Soyuz MS-23 vehicle in February that will bring back the cosmonauts. To ensure the astronauts safety while they wait, NASA ISS mission management set a plan in motion in case of an emergency at the orbiting laboratory that would potentially require all crewmembers to evacuate the ISS. The plan is to remove NASA Astronauts Frank Rubio’s seat liner from the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft to install it on Crew Dragon Endurance. The astronauts started to install the seat liner on January 17/18 to play it safe. “The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin in the event of an emergency return to Earth,” said the agency.
Crew Dragon was originally designed to transport a crew of seven but it was only launched with four seats as part of the Crew-5 mission that sent an international crew: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina –who is the only female in Russia’s space corps and was also launched as part of the barter agreement. Crew-5 is scheduled to return sometime in February.
“Once the replacement Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the space station on February 22, Rubio’s seat liner will be transferred to the new Soyuz and the seat liners for Prokopyev and Petelin will be moved from MS-22 to MS-23 ahead of their return in the Soyuz,” shared NASA. Though, it is still unclear when the Soyuz crew will return. Russia’s side of the orbiting laboratory must always have a crew and Roscosmos is still manufacturing the next Soyuz (MS-24) vehicle that will send up a replacement crew. Agency officials said that it is likely they will stay at ISS a few more months until Russia is ready to launch the next cosmonaut crew.
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About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.