Space Station Could Be Empty and Abandoned By November

08/29/2011 01:03 PM ET

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station could leave and abandon the ship in November despite a delivery of important logistics by the final shuttle mission in July.

Recent failures by Russia’s mainstay cargo rocket is likely to keep three astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) more than a month longer than planned, forcing them to leave the ship abandoned over numerous safety concerns. Russia said there are problems with landing Soyuz capsules in the middle of winter, which could force the space station to fly unmanned, according to Michael Suffredini, NASA’s program manager.

There are six astronauts aboard the ISS. Three were scheduled to return to Earth on September 8, but mission controllers last week ordered a delay in their departure in the wake of an August mission failure by Russia’s Soyuz rocket, now the only booster capable of sending replacement astronauts to the ISS.

This is the second time in a row the Soyuz rocket experienced a failure.

“Logistically, we can support operations almost forever, but eventually if we don’t see the Soyuz spacecraft, we’ll probably be going to unmanned ops before the end of the year,” Michael Suffredini, NASA’s program manager, said in a statement.

NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin were preparing to launch to the space station Sept. 22, but that flight is likely going to be delayed until at least October in the wake of Wednesday’s rocket failure while investigators figure out the issues with the rocket.

If Russia is unable to deliver supplies and replacement crew to the space station by the end of November, all astronauts could abandon it via escape modules built into the ship.

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