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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Russians Nix Space Station Photo Session

HOUSTON — A NASA-backed plan for a unique International Space Station (ISS) family portrait featuring the space shuttle Discovery as well as docked spacecraft from the other major station partners was vetoed on March 1 by the Russians, who decided the photo opportunity would interfere with long-established test objectives for their new Soyuz TMA-01M.
The choreography would have relied on the capsule, with Alexander Kaleri at the controls and two others aboard with cameras and high-definition camcorders, to back about 600 ft. away from the station on March 5 for a portrait along the station’s long axis, while Discovery, Europe’s ATV-2, and Japan’s HTV-2 as well as a second Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft were all docked to the outpost at the same time.
NASA’s Kenneth Todd, who chairs the ISS Mission Management Team, called the decision disappointing, but he backed the Russians’ judgment on the proposal, which surfaced within NASA’s ranks just two weeks ago (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 23).
“This was absolutely not a surprise,” Todd told a news briefing that followed a MMT “go-no go” vote by the partners on the proposal. “Our Russian colleagues worked very hard to build a plan and work it within their own system to see if they could get to the point everyone was comfortable,” Todd says. “The Europeans were very supportive, our Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency partners were supportive as well as our Canadian partners.”
The Soyuz TMA-01M, launched Oct. 7 with Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Scott Kelly, marked the first flight of the venerable Russian capsule with improved avionics and cooling as well as new digital data processing, navigation and control systems. The spacecraft is to make its first descent to Earth with the three men on March 16.
A second portrait opportunity is unlikely. The shuttle program will end this year after one and possibly two more flights, the first in late April. The Japanese and European supply ships are scheduled to depart in late March and early June. In addition, the TMA-01M spacecraft, also known as Soyuz 24, is docked to the space-facing port of the Russian Poisk module, where the departure and re-docking would not pose a risk to Discovery from thruster exhaust.

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