Russia delays next manned space flight
Russia on Monday delayed the next manned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by at least a month after an unmanned cargo vessel crashed into Siberia instead of reaching orbit.
The head of Russia's manned spaceflight programme also warned that a significantly longer delay would force the six people on board the station to abandon the orbiter due to problems of fatigue and supplies.
"We expect that the next manned launch will take place in late October or early November -- not earlier. That is our plan," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia's manned spaceflight programme director Alexei Krasnov as saying.
The launch had initially been scheduled for September 22.
Krasnov said the return to Earth of the first three of six crew members on board the ISS has also been pushed back from September 8 until September 16.
"If for some reason we fail to send up the next crew by the end of November, we will have to study all the available options, including one of leaving the station unmanned," Russian news agencies quoted Krasnov as saying.
An unnamed Russian space official separately told Interfax the Roscosmos space agency would carry out two unmanned flights using its Soyuz rocket by December before sending the next crew to the ISS.
"At the moment, we are studying the option of sending the first spacecraft in November and the second in December," the official said.
A NASA official had earlier said the US agency would prefer to return the crew from the ISS no later than the end of November because of the dangers of winter-time landings over steppe-covered Kazakhstan.
NASA preferred to keep to ISS manned at all times so that crew members could continue carrying out their experiments.
Officials from both sides said the international crew on board the ISS has enough basic supplies and oxygen to last at least through November.
Russian officials are concerned about a manned mission because the Soyuz-FG has the same third-stage motor as the one in the Soyuz-U rocket that failed to put the Progress craft in orbit on August 24.
The failed launch was a spectacular blow for Russia after it had proudly become the sole nation capable of taking humans to the ISS after the July withdrawal of the US space shuttle.
ISS residents Russians Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev as well as American Ron Garan had been due to return to Earth on a Soyuz TMA-21 capsule on September 8.
© 2011 AFP