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Subject Astronauts Prepare to Temporarily Abandon International Space Station
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Original Message Published September 06, 2011


The astronauts aboard the International Space Station said Monday that ground controllers are figuring out how best to leave the vast complex running -- what lights to leave on, which vents to keep open -- in case it needs to be temporarily abandoned.

A Russian rocket carrying space station supplies failed during liftoff two weeks ago and crashed into Siberia. It's the same type of rocket used to launch people to the station. Until Russian engineers can figure out what went wrong, all Soyuz launches are on hold.

Six men are living aboard the space station. Three of them will leave late next week, a week late to keep the outpost fully staffed as long as possible. A new crew of three was supposed to blast off this month. But the flight has been delayed until at least the beginning of November, just two weeks before the three remaining residents would have to leave.

Given that the investigation is still ongoing, "there are a lot of things that have to stack up" to allow for an early November launch, said U.S. astronaut Michael Fossum.

Fossum said he and his two crewmates will leave the space station in the best possible condition if it must be vacated.

"The teams in Houston are in the preliminary stages of deciding everything, from what ventilation we're going to leave running, what lights we're going to leave on, what condition each particular experiment will be on, every tank, every valve, every hatch," Fossum said at a news conference from space.

He added: "It's too early for us to get too worried about that frankly. It will take us a few weeks to finish that up, but we have another nine or so weeks here, my crew of three. So we've got plenty of time for those kinds of things."

Astronauts have been living aboard the station, without interruption, for almost 11 years.

With NASA's space shuttles retired as of July, the Soyuz is the only means of getting astronauts to and from the space station. Private U.S. companies hope to provide an alternative in three to five years. These commercial rocket makers will start with cargo runs -- possibly by year's end -- and build from there.

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