Following the failure of the Russian Soyuz rocket last week, if the astronauts currently living in the International Space Station will have to abandon ship even temporarily, the $100 billion orbiting research facility would be at great risk of being lost.
According to NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini, even if NASA evacuates the space station, it can be operated remotely, but at the cost of potential risks of losing it.
It's not a trivial thing. If you look at probability risk assessments, some of the numbers are not insignificant. There is a greater risk of losing ISS when it's unmanned than if it were manned, Suffredini told Florida Today.
In addition, there could be failures with station systems causing it lose attitude control, which could also harm the ability of Houston and Moscow to send command to the station antennas.
It would be bad because the chance for loss of station goes up quite a bit when there is no crew onboard, Houston Chronicle quoted Leroy Chiao, a former astronaut, who commanded ISS Expedition 10 in 2004 and 2005.
If any critical system failure occurs in the space station and astronauts and cosmonauts are not one onboard to fix it, there is a 1 in 10 chance of losing the station within six months, according to NASA's earlier risk assessments.
The situation may even get worse if ISS is left unmanned for a year, with the probability of losing it soaring to an alarming 1 in 2 chance.
If NASA kept ISS unmanned it would be the first time in more than 10 years -- the ISS has not been abandoned since November 2000. The failure of the Soyuz rocket is delaying upcoming launches to crews and cargo to the space station.
The unmanned ISS Progress 44 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9 a.m. EDT (7 p.m. Kazakhstan time) Aug. 24 on a Soyuz U rocket, bound for the ISS. At 5 minutes and 25 seconds into flight, the Soyuz rocket, which was carrying about 3 tons of supplies to ISS experienced a third-stage engine shutdown due to an anomaly and crashed in Siberia.
For U.S. lawmakers and experts, Russia's series of rocket and satellite failures in the last year has caused serious concerns as the country is the only road for American spaceflight until the new private spaceships come into action.
As of August 2011, the Russian Space Agency had launched 745 Soyuz-U launch vehicles. There have been 21 launch failures and 724 successes. The failure of the Progress cargo ship launch was the fourth Russian spacecraft lost in the past nine months.