The Russian government announced Wednesday that it will conduct a rescue mission to launch a Soyuz spacecraft to bring two of its cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut back to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) after a leak was discovered.
A capsule for the crew was hit by a micrometeoroid which caused a leak last month. The tiny hole is less than 1 millimeter wide and is on the external cooling system of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule.
Russia said it will send a Soyuz MS-23 on Feb. 20 to replace the damaged capsule. The damaged Soyuz will be brought back to Earth without a crew.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, along with U.S. astronaut Francisco Rubio, were scheduled to end their mission in space in March, but their return to Earth has now been delayed by a few more months and they will now return on the MS-23.
Sergei Krikalev, chief of crewed space programs for Russia, said, "In case of an emergency, when the crew will have a real threat to life on the station, then probably the danger of staying on the station can be higher than going down in an unhealthy Soyuz."
Krikalev said, "Space is not a safe place, and not a safe environment. We have meteorites, we have a vacuum and we have a high temperature and we have complicated hardware that can fail."
Spacewalks were called off while officials focus on the leaking capsule.