“Soyuz Epoch” – Off To A Bad Start

The unmanned Progress 44 rocket failed to separate from the Soyuz rocket's upper stage - and could impact future crewed flights. Photo Credit: NASA

A short time after shuttle Atlantis conducted the last landing of the shuttle era, Russia made the comment that this was now the “Soyuz Epoch.” If that is the case – today’s loss of the Progress cargo freighter atop a Soyuz Rocket is slightly disconcerting. The vessel and all of its cargo was lost when the upper stage apparently shut down early – thus failing to give the Progress the needed veocity to get into the desired orbit. This happened about five minutes and 50 seconds into flight. The vehicle then plummeted back to Earth and crashed. 

Mission controllers in Russia informed the six-person Expedition 28 crew that Progress 44 was lost. Russia’s Mission Control, located in Korolev, desperately tried to regain contact with the doomed spacecraft – to no avail. Russia promised to try and figure out what had gone wrong. 

Progress 44 was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) at 9 a.m. EDT on a resupply run. The spacecraft carried approximately three tons of water, food, fuel, oxygen and other supplies to the orbiting laboratory. It was supposed to dock with the ISS on Friday morning. 

This is the first launch of a Soyuz since the end of the shuttle program last month, which saw space shuttle Atlantis successfully deliver some 9,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the ISS. In the intervening period, Russia has touted the reliability of the Soyuz while making statements that it will dump the ISS into the Pacific by 2020. 

NASA did not immediately comment about its plans to include one of their astronauts, Dan Burbank, atop a similarly designed Soyuz Rocket next month on Sept. 21. The fate of that mission is now in doubt.

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