Crew aboard space station may be stuck

Shuttle disaster may force 2-month flight extension

The Loss Of Columbia

February 03, 2003|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - Two Americans and a Russian aboard the International Space Station may be stuck there two months longer than planned after Saturday's shuttle disaster, a Russian space official said yesterday.

NASA astronauts Kenneth D. Bowersox and Donald R. Pettit, along with Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin, flew to the station in November and were scheduled to return next month.

But Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for Rosaviakosmos, the Russian space agency, said now the three may have to stay in orbit until May.

"The final decision will be taken after specialists calculate exactly how much time stocks of food, oxygen and fuel will last," Gorbunov told the Itar-Tass news agency yesterday.

NASA grounded its shuttle fleet pending an investigation of Saturday's fiery breakup of the space shuttle Columbia, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts.

The grounding severed the space station's chief source of crews, equipment and supplies.

Rosaviakosmos' announcement came as an unmanned Progress cargo vehicle blasted off from Kazakstan yesterday on its way to resupply the crew.

The long-planned launch dramatized the critical role Russia will play in keeping the only permanent outpost in space running over the next several months - or perhaps years.

Gorbunov said yesterday that he expects shuttle flights to be frozen "for at least a year."

The Russian craft is to dock with the station tomorrow.

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