NASA has been working with a space agency in Russia to prolong crew stays on the International Space Station (ISS) according to its acting administrator. It serves as a cushion against future delays when it comes to the commercial crew capsule development by SpaceX as well as Boeing.
Robert Lightfoot told lawmakers that NASA has been looking for effective ways to guarantee that U.S. astronauts will never have a hard time to fly to the space station once the Boeing and SpaceX commercial spaceships are not operational.
One option has been under thorough research to extend the commercial crew ships’ piloted test flights within a few months. NASA previously updated its contract with Boeing to give all the officials the option to prolong the flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft from weeks to months.
Lightfoot, who will be retiring at the end of this month, told a House appropriations subcommittee that NASA does not anticipate a gap in crew access to the station in space between the end of the missions of Soyuz and the start of crew rotation flights by SpaceX as well as Boeing.
However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the set schedules might fall behind the projection of NASA. It anticipated the vehicles of Boeing and SpaceX to complete their crewed and unscrewed demonstration missions by next year.
Based on the GAO’s report, the certification of the Crew Dragon of SpaceX may slip by December 2019 while the final certification of Boeing may occur in 2020.
Lightfoot also said that NASA has been taking steps to lessen the effects of commercial crew delays that includes the possibility of extending the time that astronauts live and work in space.
Lightfoot also added that they are currently working with all their partners to find out the best options. However, they know that they still show margin. What they have at present is a good relationship with their Russian partners. They are looking for other effective alternatives to extend mission durations.
Typically, most space station crews spend six months in orbit. Nonetheless, some have stayed longer. Scott Kelly (NASA astronaut), and Mikhail Kornienko (Russian Cosmonaut) spent around 340 days on space station from 2015 to 2016. Peggy Whitson returned to the Earth after a space mission that lasted 288 days.
Extending space station stays indeed possible. Thru a long-duration mission, researchers, scientists, or astronauts can gather more data about how extended exposure to radiation or microgravity impacts the human body.