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Russia plans first manned launch to ISS since October accident

The International Space Station. (NASA/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia says it will launch its first manned rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) since the failed October 11 launch on December 3.

“In order to avoid shifting the ISS to an unmanned mode, the industry is exerting considerable efforts to make the launch possible on December 3,” Sergei Krikalyov, the executive director of the manned spaceflight program at Russia’s Roskosmos space agency, said on October 31.

The mission crew that is currently working aboard the ISS might return to Earth on December 20, Krikalyov said.

In the aborted mission, a space capsule carrying a two-man Russian-American crew malfunctioned after liftoff and landed safely in Kazakhstan.

Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague were aboard the capsule bound for the ISS and were unhurt in the incident.

Russian rockets have experienced an array of glitches in recent years, but the latest mishap was the first to be experienced by a manned Soyuz capsule since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.

Hague and Ovchinin were due to spend six months on the ISS. Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said earlier that space authorities plan to send Hague and Ovchinin up to the ISS in the spring of 2019.

Krikalyov on October 31 reiterated Roskosmos’s earlier statements saying that the malfunction was caused by a collision of the first and second stages of the rocket during the first stage separation.

Krikalyov blamed “a malfunction of the sensor separating the first and second stages of the rocket” for the problem and said that efforts were being taken to ensure the safety of future flights.

The current crew working aboard the ISS since June 6 consists of Sergei Prokopyev of Russia, Serena Maria Aunon-Chancellor of the United States, and Alexander Gerst of Germany.

The next crew — Oleg Kononenko of Russia, Anne Charlotte McClain of the United States, and David Saint-Jacques of Canada — was initially scheduled to be sent to the ISS in late December, but that launch was rescheduled after the October 11 accident.