Shuttle Disaster Clouds Future of Space Station
American and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space
Station (ISS) were still reeling under word seven of the comrades
had been killed aboard the shuttle Columbia, an unmanned supply
ship launched Sunday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Progress spaceship carries about three tons of food, water,
oxygen and fuel.
The Progress M-47 lifted off atop a Soyuz-U rocket from the
Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:59 p.m. and entered orbit a
few minutes later, said Nikolai Kryuchkov, a spokesman at Russia's
mission control center outside Moscow said in an official
The Progress cargo booster is carrying about three tonnes of
water, food, oxygen and fuel. It's expected to dock with the ISS
Tuesday morning. The remaining three American shuttles, however,
are grounded until NASA is sure they won't suffer the same fate as
A Long Talk With Cabana
Americans Ken Bowersox and Donald Pettit and
Russian Nikolai Budarin spoke at length Sunday with NASA Flight
Crew Operations Chief Bob Cabana (right). At a news conference
afterwards, Cabana said Bowersox and Pettit were heartbroken at the
loss of Columbia and its crew. "We still have a crew in orbit now,"
he reminded reporters. "They deserve our full attention. They're
being kept fully informed," Cabana said. "They're grieving.
"They're also feeling kind of isolated," Cabana continued. "It's
hard for them to be so ar away."
There Is A Way Home
Even with the American shuttle fleet grounded, the three
astronauts aboard the ISS can board a Russian escape vehicle docked
at the orbiting station, which is in position -- complete with
customized re-entry suits for the crew -- for just this kind of
contingency. The three space station crewmembers have been circling
240 miles above the planet for the past 69 days. NASA officials
say, with regular resupply missions from unmanned Russian ships,
the crew will be fine until at least the latter part of June.
But the loss of the Columbia clearly jeopardizes the ongoing
construction and maintenance of the 2-year-old International Space
Station, which can be serviced only by both Russian and American
The Russian Interfax news agency quoted some Russian space
experts who said the disaster raises the possibility of mothballing
the International Space Station until the source of the accident is
found and corrected.
is a big tragedy for us," said Vladimir Solovyov, head of Russia's
mission control center. "We knew every member of the Columbia crew
personally except for the Israeli astronaut."
Cosmonaut Yuri Usachev, who commanded the space station's second
crew in 2001, said he and his colleagues were feeling the tragedy
as a "personal loss."
"I believe yesterday's tragedy will have a big influence on the
future of the international space station," he told TVS television.
"Probably for a certain amount of time the accent will shift to
Russian systems of delivery of cargo and crews."