For the second time in less than three weeks, the Russian space agency has delayed the launch date of the next manned rocket to the International Space Station, citing ongoing concerns about the safety of the Soyuz booster rocket that will propel the craft into space.
On Aug. 24, an unmanned Russian cargo ship carrying supplies to the space station crashed in Siberia due to a Soyuz rocket malfunction.
Russian space agency officials said they would not send up another manned rocket until the cause of the crash had been identified and fixed. The new launch date for the manned mission, originally scheduled for Sept. 22, is Nov. 12, Russian officials announced on Tuesday.
The Russian commission that investigated the crash determined that the rocket exploded because of a clogged pipe that helped power the third-stage motor, Discover Magazine reports. According to Discover Magazine:
The flaw appears to have happened in the manufacturing process, and that’s the sticky point. If it were something procedural setting up for launch (tanking up the rocket, for example), that’s a relatively easy fix. If it were some malfunction in the machinery used to make the rocket (again, possible to find and fix in general), the flaw would’ve turned up more often. That leaves something that happened by accident, and that’s not terribly reassuring.
The commission has suggested installing video cameras to monitor factory workers, the New York Times reports.
The new launch date allows time to implement all of the commission’s safety recommendations, the Russian space agency said in a statement.
The delay has increased the likelihood that astronauts will have to completely abandon the Space Station for a time.
(More from GlobalPost: Space Station may be abandoned in November)
Three of the six astronauts currently living on the Space Station are flying back to Earth in a Soyuz capsule (not related to the failed rocket) on Sept. 15, leaving only three astronauts in the orbiting laboratory, Discover Magazine reports.
If a manned rocket does not arrive by mid-November, they will have to abandon the Space Station so they can travel back on one of the existing return capsules at the station, which use fuel that has an expiry date.
This latest delay has critics pointing fingers at the U.S. government’s short-sightedness. "The political and budgetary rush to scrap the shuttles was so strong that all the risks inherent in relying upon any single source, much less the Russian system in particular, were downplayed or ignored," Art Harman, director of the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration, told Fox News. “Many of the systemic weaknesses of the Soyuz system were not a big deal in the shuttle era. Yet now they indeed become of paramount concern to the survival of our $100 billion investment in America's space future.”