Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New Soyuz was snag in flyabout plan

A unique photo opportunity outside the International Space Station won't take place because Russian officials were concerned about flying a new-model Soyuz spacecraft through unpracticed procedures, NASA officials said today.

"Even on the Russian side, this is not necessarily what they wanted the outcome to be," said Kenny Todd, space station mission integration and operations manager. "Is there disappointment? Sure. I think so. I think that this was going to be something that a lot of us were looking to pull off."

NASA has proposed flying one of two Soyuz around the station to capture historic photos while all the current international partner vehicles were docked at the nearly complete outpost. It would have been performed Saturday, flown by two cosmonauts and American Scott Kelly.

But the Soyuz is the first "Series 700" vehicle flown with some structural and computer upgrades, and Russian flight controllers were hesitant to put a relatively untested spacecraft through "flyabout" procedures hatched within the last two weeks.

The other docked Soyuz is a more proven older model (called Series 200) but couldn't be used because of its location and the fact that it is the lifeboat for the three most recently arrived crew members.

Todd, who oversees the space station mission management team, said that despite the disappointment, there was unanimous agreement to accept the Russian recommendation not to perform the flyabout.

"It is what it is, and we move forward from here," he said.

IMAGE: The Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft approached the International Space Station on Oct. 9, 2010, carrying Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, Soyuz commander and Expedition 25 flight engineer; along with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, both flight engineers.

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