Astronauts May Be Stranded On The International Space Station

The Russian spacecraft docked at the International Space Station might be too damaged to bring 3 astronauts back to Earth.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

international space station

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft that is docked with the International Space Station might be damaged beyond repair, according to a report by This comes after live stream footage showed an uncontrolled coolant leak coming from the spacecraft. The leak delayed a spacewalk that was scheduled for the day of the leak and resulted in the cancellation of another scheduled spacewalk. Now, however, it appears the damage is more far-reaching than that. Tommaso Sgobba, who works as the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety’s executive director, told that the craft will probably not be able to transport the two Russian cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut that it transported to the International Space Station back to earth.

Tommaso Sgobba said:

From what I saw from the pictures, this was a massive loss of coolant. I have to assume that the active coolant system of the Soyuz spacecraft was compromised and therefore, the Soyuz is no longer available for operation. It’s my personal feeling, but if it’s true, we have a big problem on the space station. We are missing the crew escape system.

The three crew members were transported to the International Space Station onboard the now-non-functional spacecraft on September 22. With four more crew members also onboard, that means that the space station doesn’t have enough capacity to evacuate the entire crew in case of emergency.

What’s more, the three Soyuz passengers wouldn’t even be able to leave the International Space Station on the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules. Using those capsules requires the use of tailor-made space suits designed for each specific crew member. The four other crew members arrived aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, so they have these spacesuits. The three crew members who arrived aboard the Soyuz vessel have suits made by NASA and Russia, which are adjustable so as to be able to fit multiple occupants.

international space station (1)
The International Space Station

While Sgobba has stated that the Soyuz ship most likely cannot fly, Russia has been hesitant to confirm this suspicion. A statement from the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, only acknowledged that the coolant leak caused a temperature change aboard the International Space Station. The agency has not yet addressed the issue of whether the Soyuz vessel has been damaged beyond repair.

According to Sgobba, the spaceship-destroying leak was most likely caused by a piece of space debris hitting the Soyuz vessel while it was docked at the International Space Station. Sgobba says it must have been a larger piece of space debris since spacecraft can usually withstand the force of small objects such as micrometeorites.

Since there aren’t any SpaceX suits for the three stranded astronauts, they won’t be able to leave the International Space Station until another Soyuz vessel arrives. The most likely solution will be for Russia to send two Soyuz vessels at once, with a new three-member crew split between the two of them. This means that one of the vessels would only have a single crew member onboard — usually, each Soyuz craft is piloted by two Russian cosmonauts.

After both vessels dock with the International Space Station, the three currently-stranded crew members would then immediately leave aboard one of the newly-arrived craft. However, Sgobba estimates that it will take weeks, or even months before the replacement Soyuz can be sent to the station. Until then, Sgobba says, work onboard the International Space Station will have to continue as usual, despite the fact that not all the crew will be able to escape in case of an emergency.