HOUSTON — The three Russian, U.S. and European crewmembers headed for the International Space Station in late December anticipate few adjustments other than scheduling as they return the orbiting science lab to sustained six-person operations in the aftermath of the Aug. 24 Soyuz failure.
Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers — all veterans of previous station expeditions — are tentatively scheduled to lift off aboard Soyuz 29 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 26, though the launch could be advanced to as early as Dec. 21.
“Right now, I can say only that our launch date changed,” Kononenko told a Sept. 20 news briefing at, where the three men will complete their U.S. training later in the week. “I don’t know about any major changes as a whole.”
Until the Soyuz failure, the Soyuz 29 had been scheduled for a Nov. 29 liftoff.
Last week, the U.S.-led Space Station Control Board agreed to a recovery plan that avoids the prospect of a temporary evacuation of the station as the three-man U.S., Russian and Japanese crew currently aboard the orbital outpost descends to Earth on Nov. 22. To assure continuous staffing, Mike Fossum, Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa are scheduled to be joined by Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov and American Dan Burbank on Nov. 16, two days after their Soyuz 28 mission lifts off from Baikonur.
Meanwhile on Sept. 20, Bill Gerstenmaier,’s associate administrator for exploration and human space operations, and Mike Suffredini, ’s ISS program manager, arrived in Moscow for discussions with representatives of and the Russian state commission that investigated the late November Soyuz-U failure. The mishap sent the Progress 44 unmanned cargo spacecraft plummeting back to Earth.
The crash was blamed on a manufacturing flaw in the third-stage propulsion hardware, which is similar to the Soyuz-FG used to launch space station crews.
During the meetings, officials will review the mishap’s cause and the recovery plan, according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias. That plan includes an Oct. 30 launch of the Progress 45, which will serve as an unmanned test flight.
The station’s crew dropped to three from six late last week, when Soyuz 26 departed the outpost with Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and Ron Garan.