Russian Soyuz grounded again, SpaceX Dragon may be next to ISS

Well, this is no good: testing has revealed cracks in the Soyuz landing capsule that Russia was supposed to launch to the ISS, rendering it decidedly un-spaceworthy. The launch date has been rescheduled until April or May, meaning that SpaceX's Dragon capsule might be the next arrival at the ISS.

A cracked shell in the Soyuz descent vehicle (the bit that's supposed to keep the astronauts inside safe from what's going on outside) is the second major failure that Soyuz has experienced in just the last six months. The previous failure (a clogged fuel line) resulted in the crash of an unmanned cargo capsule back in August of last year, and of course there's the whole Phobos-Grunt fiasco.

The problem here isn't so much that the astronauts on the ISS are in danger of starving or anything, it's just a reinforcement of the core issue of space transport: we've got all our eggs in one single Russian basket of increasingly questionable reliability. This is about to change, however, if SpaceX successfully manages to send their Dragon capsule to dock with the ISS.

Originally planned for last November, SpaceX is now looking at late March for their ISS launch attempt, saying that there's more testing that they'd like to do. While I'm as anxious for private industry to field a viable space transport alternative as I bet NASA probably is, SpaceX really needs to get this first one right, so taking some extra time seems like a good idea. Even so, at this rate Dragon will be the next craft to dock at the ISS, hopefully bringing the astronauts some fresh snacks and a change of underwear.

Oh, SpaceX has just posted an interior panorama inside the Dragon capsule which you should absolutely go check out here.


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