NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are still investigating the cause of a leak on a spacecraft attached to the International Space Station (ISS), and are working on a plan to safely return three crew members from the station to Earth.
There are currently seven crew members on the ISS, of which three had been scheduled to travel on the Soyuz spacecraft which sprang a leak last week. Video on NASA TV showed coolant leaking from the spacecraft in dramatic footage, and it was later confirmed that temperatures inside the Soyuz were rising.
Head of Roscosmos, Yury Borisov, said in a press briefing that the agency had “no fears” about the well-being of the ISS crew and that temperatures in the Soyuz craft had now stabilized.
The issue now is how astronauts on board the ISS will be returned to Earth, as it seems unlikely they will use the Soyuz as it has leaked its coolant. One option is for another Soyuz craft to be sent to the ISS to bring the astronauts home.
There is a Soyuz scheduled for launch in March, and this launch could be brought forward to February with the spacecraft sent to the station uncrewed and therefore available to take the three crew members back to Earth. NASA says that Roscosmos is looking into this possibility but has not yet confirmed definite plans.
The two agencies are also investigating the cause of the leak. There had been suspicions that the leak might have been caused by an impact from a meteoroid, as the Earth recently experienced the annual Geminids meteor shower when the planets passes through a field of debris left over from an asteroid. However, that seems not to have been the case as the leak on the Soyuz was not in the direction that the Geminid meteoroids were traveling. NASA and other space agencies are still working to determine what the cause of the leak was, as it could have been a meteoroid impact unrelated to the Geminids or it could have been a different problem altogether.