Next space station crew uncertain about how they'll get back

Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The next crew of the international space station blasts off in a Russian Soyuz vehicle in just over two months, but they don't know how they will be returning to Earth.

``Some people might say you're unwise taking a one-way trip into space, but we always do have the Soyuz vehicle that we launch on to return in,'' Michael Foale, commander of the Expedition 8 mission, said Thursday at a news conference in Houston, monitored at Cape Canaveral.

Foale and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri will spend more than six months in space after their Oct. 18 launch in Kazakhstan. By the time of their late April return, NASA may be ready to resume flights of its space shuttles, which have been grounded since the Feb. 1 disintegration of Columbia. All seven crew members died.

NASA, which has depended on Russian vehicles to deliver food and supplies to the space station since the Columbia accident, hopes to resume shuttle flights sometime between March 11 and April 6.

European Space Agency astronaut Pedro Duque of Spain will blast off with the Expedition 8 crew members and spend eight days at the space station before returning with the current two-man crew, astronaut Ed Lu and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

The space station crew was reduced from three to two after the Columbia accident because a Soyuz can't deliver as much food and supplies as a shuttle. Foale said he and Kaleri planned to carry out 15 science experiments, and have been training to make a two-man spacewalk.

Spacewalks on the space station in the past have only been done with three people _ two outside and one inside, providing guidance.

``I was very concerned that without the shuttle ... we wouldn't have much to do,'' Foale said. ``As it turns out, there is an enormous amount of equipment and we can use that equipment to do a number of experiments.''

Duque, who is returning to Earth in a Russian Soyuz, said he wasn't worried about a repeat of the last Soyuz landing in May when the capsule landed nearly 300 miles off target in Kazakhstan. All future Soyuz crafts will be equipped with satellite communications technology.

The three men said the Columbia accident didn't deter them.

``It brings a little more to your mind that space flight is risky,'' Duque said. ``But we are still going, and we still have our faith put in the engineers and the ground teams.''