Russia Looking to Reduce ISS Crew Size

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)

Roscosmos is looking to reduce the size of Russian crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, Izvestiya reports.

“We sent a letter to the participants of the ISS program – we want to hear their views on how we reduce the crew and when, there are nuances,” Sergei Krikalev, director of manned programs of the state corporation Roscosmos told Izvestia. “We are interested in the opinion of the Mission Control Center, the Institute of Biomedical Problems (RAS lead agency on the subject of Human Spaceflight — Izvestiya), our ISS partners. The intention to reduce the crew due to the fact that we have reduced the number of cargo ships sent to the ISS, as well as awareness of the need to increase the effectiveness of the program.”

The story says Roscosmos’ budget for space station operations was reduced as part of a severe cut in the space program’s funding. Russia’s national budget has been under severe pressure due to a reduction in oil revenues and Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

Another factor is that the three cosmonauts aboard the station apparently don’t have enough to do. This problem is a result of the severe quality control problems that  have bedeviled the Russian space program in recent years.

Russia had planned to expand its part of the station by adding the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) and two related modules to support it between 2013 and 2015. However, Khrunichev botched the job manufacturing the MLM. An inspection of the module after it was completed found debris in pipes and other flaws. Now, the launches are planned for 2018 and 2019.

“If you look at the original plan, we have assumed the launch multipurpose laboratory module for the International Space Station, and only then increase the crew,” Krikalev explained in an interview with Izvestiya. But MLM launch postponed several times, and the crew nevertheless increased. From my point of view, three people in the Russian segment, taking into account a set of equipment, which is now – it’s a bust.”

Reducing the crew size will free up seats on the Soyuz transport to carry space tourists, which would bring in funding for the hard-pressed space program. Russia has not been able to fly tourists since the American space shuttle retired in 2011, forcing the Soyuz to shoulder the entire burden of taking crews to the space station.

At a press conference earlier this week, NASA officials acknowledged they had received Russia’s proposal for the crew reduction.

“At this point it’s strictly a proposal they put on the table, and we’ll look at it,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s space station operations integration manager. “As we do with all these kinds of things, we’ll trade it against whatever risk it might put into the program. First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself. And then from there we start looking at the options and see what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that’s a bad thing.”