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NASA Administrator's Update on Space Station

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, September 2, 2011

image There has been a lot in the news recently about the International Space Station (ISS) and our astronauts aboard this orbiting outpost, and I wanted to take a moment to give you an update. Last week, our Russian partners lost a Progress cargo vehicle during launch. The cargo lost, although important, can be replaced.

All of us are focused on determining the cause of the Soyuz booster anomaly so we can resolve it and get back to flying crew safely to the ISS. Our first priority is to keep everyone safe and the station crewed. Keeping the crew on-board allows us to continue the scientific research mission planned for the ISS and to help make the breakthroughs that will make our missions to farther destinations possible.

The failure appears to be in the third stage of the Soyuz booster. The third stage is common between the Soyuz U booster used for Progress cargo flights and the Soyuz F/G booster used for crew launches. We believe the Soyuz crew capsule would have performed an abort and a ballistic entry if this same failure occurred on a Soyuz booster during a crew flight. We are confirming this with our Russian colleagues. However, we want to fully understand the failure, before flying crew.

The crew on board the station are doing very well. They are in good spirits, and have plenty of supplies, thanks to the cargo carried up on STS-135. Three members of the crew, including U.S. astronaut Ron Garan, will return to Earth on September 16 as part of the regular crew rotation. The other three members will remain on the ISS and complete their rotations as planned.

The Russians will not launch another Soyuz booster until their investigation is complete and the rocket is re-validated. Current planning will allow for at least one unmanned booster to fly before the Soyuz booster is used again for crew launch.

The incident does remind us of the urgency of bringing on-line U.S. transportation capabilities for both crew and cargo. Redundancy of systems has always been a fundamental consideration in sound spacecraft design. Redundancy is an equally important consideration at the vehicle level as we continue to operate and maintain the ISS, and as we take on increasingly complex exploration missions involving international cooperation.

Our commercial partners SpaceX and Orbital are making steady progress and are working hard to demonstrate their new cargo transport vehicles. Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration granted a license to Orbital for their first demonstration launch next year. And SpaceX is currently scheduled to launch a cargo flight to demonstrate berthing with the ISS later this year.

We also continue to make progress with our four partners in the Commercial Crew Development Program to facilitate multiple new capabilities to transport astronauts to and from the ISS with American companies. This is a crucial aspect of our future human spaceflight activities that will allow us to fully utilize the ISS and will enable NASA to focus more resources on deep space exploration. President Obama has requested $850 million for commercial activities in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, and our partners are working now to develop spacecraft, rockets and supporting systems that will help us create that important robust and redundant access to the ISS in the next few years.

All of this represents steady progress toward our ultimate goal of getting American companies launching cargo and eventually crews again from the U.S. I am confident that the Soyuz vehicles will return to flight and that our commercial partners will soon be delivering cargo to the ISS. I am also confident in each of you and the work you do to keep NASA on the cutting edge of research, exploration, and scientific discovery.

Charlie B.

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