NASA Reportedly In Talks With SpaceX In Preparation For Possible ISS Crew Rescue

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it seems that NASA may be about to put that old saying to the test by reaching out to SpaceX for help. The crew currently residing on the International Space Station is in a questionable situation, and if all else fails, NASA might need the help of Elon Musk's SpaceX to get the astronauts back home safely. It all comes down to the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, which has suffered a severe malfunction. Can it be fixed in time, or will NASA need to rely on SpaceX's Dragon?

On December 14, 2022, a NASA webcast revealed that the Soyuz MS-22 capsule had seemingly sprung a leak — most likely a coolant leak. This delayed a planned spacewalk, but more importantly, it potentially puts the trip back to Earth for two Russian cosmonauts and one astronaut from the United States in jeopardy. While the current ISS crew consists of seven people, three of them are scheduled to head back to Earth in March 2023. If the Soyuz capsule is not fixed by then, they may be in trouble.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, shared an update on the leak earlier this month. When machine translated from Russian (shared on the NASA Space Flight forums), the update states: "There is no need for emergency evacuation at this time." The space agency also describes that, following the leak, the temperature in the Soyuz has been unstable, but things seem to be on the mend: "In recent days, with the shutdown of the ship's systems, the temperature in its compartments stabilized at about +30°C." The statement also says that exceeding temperature recommendations in the capsule is "permissible" and that the leak in "no way" affects the crew currently.

If the Soyuz can't do it, maybe SpaceX will

Now that we know that the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft is malfunctioning, both NASA and Roscosmos are left looking for answers. The agencies still have around three months before the ISS crew is due to return, but that's not a lot of time when you have to arrange a trip to space and back. As reported by Reuters, Roscosmos is considering the possibility of sending a different Soyuz rocket to retrieve U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dimitri Petelin. Meanwhile, NASA is searching for another backup plan in the event that the first backup option fails.

NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones spoke to Reuters about the possible cooperation with SpaceX, saying: "We have asked SpaceX a few questions on their capability to return additional crew members on Dragon if necessary, but that is not our prime focus at this time." SpaceX had nothing more to say on the matter.

This wouldn't be the first instance of SpaceX and NASA cooperating. The Dragon capsule comes in handy, because aside from the Russian Soyuz, Dragon is the only spacecraft capable of shuttling humans to and from the ISS. If the Soyuz fails, let's hope that SpaceX can come to the rescue.