Russia sets first post-crash manned flight for November

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Russia on Tuesday scheduled its next manned space flight for November 12 after delaying previous missions because of a cargo craft's failure to reach the International Space Station.

"According to the schedule ... the launch of the manned Soyuz spaceships (has been set for) November 12 and December 20 of this year," Russia's space agency Roskosmos said in a statement.

A Soyuz-U rocket carrying an unmanned cargo ship to the International Space Station failed to reach orbit on August 24 instead crashing in Siberia.

The unprecedented accident prompted Russia to ground its manned flight programme until the causes of the accident are found and raised fresh doubts about the reliability about its Soviet-era technology.

Russia is the only country capable of sending manned missions into space and the accident has prompted a series of urgent consultations with NASA officials who are concerned about the prospect of possibly leaving the ISS unmanned.

The first three of the six spacemen on board the station are due to return to Earth on Friday and NASA raised the prospect of bringing the remaining crew home if the next manned mission is not sent up by mid-November.

There was no immediate reaction from NASA to Russia's announcement but Roskmos said it was holding constant consultation with its US colleagues about the upcoming missions.

Roskosmos also announced plans to send the first post-crash unmanned cargo ferry to the ISS on October 30.

One unidentified Russian space agency source had earlier told local news agencies that Roskosmos would prefer to send two unmanned missions to the ISS as a precaution before sending up a manned crew.

Roskosmos did not explain its decision and said only that the second unmanned cargo craft would be sent up on January 26.

Space officials last week blamed the accident on a one-off production fault in a rocket engine. But they did not name the date of the next manned Soyuz space launch and only requested time for more fine-tuning and checks.

© 2011 AFP

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