Concerns that its new model Soyuz spacecraft could run into problems during an untested flight plan, Russian space officials vetoed a NASA proposal to have three space station astronauts take a Soyuz capsule for a ride around the station for an unprecedented photo shoot.
With the shuttle Discovery’s arrival at the International Space Station on Saturday, six vehicles from four space agencies — NASA, Russia, Japan and Europe — are parked at the outpost, a $100 billion project that has been under construction 220 miles above Earth since 1998.
NASA wanted to document the sight for historical and engineering purposes, but Russia nixed the plan because there wasn’t time to adequately test for potential problems with the new model Soyuz that would be used for the fly-around.
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“It’s a new vehicle, it’s got new systems on it and so there’s some level of comfort they need to gain before they’re going to be willing to entertain these kinds of options,” Kenneth Todd, chairman of the space station mission management team, told reporters. “With this first vehicle, there’s just some level of discomfort in straying too far from the plan that they already had in place.”
“This was going to be something that a lot of us were looking to pull off,” Todd added. “It would have been something really good for the program. It would have been really good for a lot of people to have this image.
“There’s a little bit of disappointment, but we have to respect the fact that it’s the right thing to go do. Sometimes the hard questions bring about answers that may not be what everybody wants, but it may be the right thing to go do,” he said.
The shuttle crew will be able to photograph and take video of the station during a traditional fly-around after it leaves the outpost on Sunday, though of course the shuttle itself won’t be in the picture.
That seems poignantly apropos, considering the shuttle fleet has been the backbone support and primary builder of the station program from the beginning. The best story in the room often unfolds before the eyes of the photographer.
Image: The shuttle Discovery astronauts get a look at the space station as they arrive for one of NASA’s last missions to the outpost. Credit: NASA