The schedule for the International Space Station crew rotation has been officially changed. Following the mishap with the Russian spacecraft Progress M-27M it was decided to postpone the launch of the next three members so the three ones of the Expedition 42/43 – Samantha Cristoforetti, Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov – will remain on the Station at least until the beginning of June.
Last week, the Russian space cargo Progress M-27M uncontrollably fell into Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating. According to the preliminary investigation, the damage to the spacecraft may have been caused by a problem in the third stage of the Soyuz rocket it was launched atop.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, postponed all scheduled Soyuz rocket launches and one of them concerned the new International Space Station crew members. To avoid having only three people on the Station for weeks, Russia and its partners NASA and ESA have agreed to postpone the return of the three crew members who were supposed to come back to Earth this week.
For the moment, there are no official dates for the next crew rotation. According to unofficial sources, Samantha Cristoforetti, Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov could return to Earth on June 11 or 12 but a lot will depend on the outcome of Roscosmos investigation on the mishap to its space freighter Progress M-27M.
At the end of next week Roscosmos should communicate an update on the investigation. Perhaps at that point it will be possible to establish a new schedule for the Soyuz rockets launches and consequently of the rotation of the International Space Station crew.
The Station crew has supplies for some months but the various partners will also have to consider how to change the launch schedule for the followin space cargo ships. The upcoming launch of the SpaceX Dragon is scheduled for June. Roscosmos had scheduled the next launch of a Progress cargo ship in August but it may be anticipated, of course if it can be done safely.
Because of this change in the crew rotation, Samantha Cristoforetti has the chance to become the woman who remained for most consecutive days in orbit. If, as it seems, she’s returning to Earth after June 6, she’ll surpass the record set in 2007 by the American astronaut Sunita Williams with 194 days.