NASA Considers SpaceX For Emergency Return Mission For Potentially Stranded Astronauts

Three weeks ago, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft sprang a coolant leak while docked at the International Space Station, leaving the craft’s spaceworthiness in question. 

NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, have been investigating what caused a punctured coolant line. The Soyuz is supposed to return two cosmonauts and one US astronaut to Earth this month.

Reuters said the leak occurred on Dec. 14 and completely “emptied the Soyuz of a vital fluid used to regulate crew cabin temperatures.” 

NASA published footage of liquid and possibly coolant spraying out of the Soyuz spacecraft.

The Soyuz spacecraft might be crippled if the coolant lines on an external radiator can’t be fixed. And if Russia can’t launch another Soyuz ship, then NASA is considering another option to bring the three-person team back home. 

NASA wrote in a statement it had contacted Elon Musk-owned “SpaceX about its capability to return additional crew members aboard Dragon if needed in an emergency, although the primary focus is on understanding the post-leak capabilities of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft.”

Last week, NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones told Reuters, “We have asked SpaceX a few questions on their capability to return additional crew members on Dragon if necessary, but that is not our prime focus at this time.”

“SpaceX has launched a string of successful Crew Dragon missions to the ISS, so it’s conceivable it could send a spacecraft equipped to bring the three crew members home,” CNET wrote. 

It was unclear what NASA and Roscosmos would do as far as trying to fix the Soyuz spacecraft or send another one up. But what’s certain is that SpaceX has been called.

What’s also apparent is just how crucial Musk’s SpaceX is to the US space and international programs. Maybe that’s why the company is now valued at $137 billion after raising $750 million in a new funding round, CNBC reported late Monday.