By Clara Moskowitz
updated 8/29/2011 4:19:18 PM ET
In the wake of a Russian rocket failure, NASA is considering evacuating the crew of the International Space Station later this year. The unprecedented move would mark the first time in more than 10 years that the orbiting outpost has gone unmanned.
The space station evacuation is one possibility following the failure of the unmanned Russian supply spacecraft just after its Aug. 24 launch — a surprise given the reliable track record of its workhorse Soyuz rocket. The vehicle’s Progress 44 cargo craft, and its 2.9 tons of supplies bound for the International Space Station, crashed in Siberia.
An investigation into the cause of the failure is under way, but until the issue is resolved NASA and its Russian partners are delaying upcoming launches to crews and cargo to the space station. The Soyuz rockets used to launch Progress vehicles are similar to ones used to launch crews into orbit, station managers said. [ Photos: Russia’s Lost Cargo Ship Progress 44 ]
So if a root cause isn’t found quickly, they may have to ground manned Soyuz rockets for the time being, forcing the space agencies to leave the $100 billion orbiting laboratory unmanned for the first time since 2001….