The unmanned Russian Soyuz capsule launched Friday morning from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station to carry three astronauts back to Earth. Their original return chamber was damaged by a small meteorite. Russia’s Soyuz MS-23 rocket has successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest rocket launch site. The launch was followed live on video from NASA.
While the capsule will dock at the International Space Station on Sunday, US astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin are not expected to return to Earth until September. The three astronauts arrived at the International Space Station last September and were originally scheduled to spend six months aboard the space station. On December 14, their capsule began leaking coolant. American and Russian space experts believe that the cause was the impact of a small meteorite.
Damage to the reentry capsule’s cooling system could cause astronauts to run into problems during reentry. During the fall, the pod is exposed to extremely high temperatures. The MS-23 capsule was initially scheduled to launch in mid-March with two cosmonauts and a cosmonaut on board who would eventually take over from Rubio, Petelin, and Prokopyev. However, without a replacement, the three will now have to spend nearly a year on the space station.
The International Space Station was launched in 1998, at a time of increasing cooperation between America and Russia in the aftermath of the Cold War “space race”. Russia has been using its outdated but reliable Soyuz capsules to launch astronauts into space since the 1960s.
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