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Wed, Apr 20, 2005

ISS Refuge: It Would Be Crowded

Chiao Says Saving Shuttle Crew Would Mean Cramped Spaces

Since the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia two years ago, NASA (and a lot of the people who watch over the space agency) has been all about contingency planning -- making shuttle flights safer. So it's no wonder that some, including astronauts themselves, are thinking, "What if...?"

Asked what if a shuttle crew had to abandon ship and take refuge aboard the International Space Station, the outgoing commander of the ISS, American Leroy Chiao, suggested the station would become a very crowded place.

"Having the shuttle crew as well as the long-duration (space station) crew members is going to be strain," he said in a recent news conference. Chiao was quoted by Reuters.

But strain or not, that's the plan. If, after its launch sometime between May 15th and June 3rd, the shuttle runs into problems so bad that it can't get back to Earth, the space plane is to dock with the space station and the crew will stay there until a rescue mission can be mounted.

Discovery's mission in the Return To Flight will include a trip to the ISS. Just before docking, Commander Eileen Collins will rotate the ship so that the crew on board the station can inspect it for damage.

Investigators said Columbia was destroyed because super-heated gases were able to penetrate a hole punched in the wing by a piece of insulating foam that fell from the shuttle's external fuel tank upon launch.

But the station, short-staffed since the Columbia tragedy two years ago, is a much more crowded place now than it was then.

"There's a lot more stuff here -- more equipment, more spare parts and more trash that hasn't been able to go down (back to Earth) because of a lack of shuttles," said Flight Engineer John Phillips.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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