- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

The International Space Station’s crew will run out of food unless an automated Russian Progress spacecraft arrives today with supplies.

The Progress freighter was launched Thursday and is expected to arrive at the space station tonight, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of food, water and other supplies.

If the Progress spacecraft fails, American astronaut Leroy Chiao said he and his crewmate, Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, will have to prepare to return to Earth and “mothball” the space station until additional supplies can be delivered.

“If the Progress is a total loss, we’ll have no choice but to evacuate the space station. It won’t be any kind of emergency evacuation — we’ll have several days or weeks to … shut down all of the systems and return to Earth,” Mr. Chiao said.

Otherwise, Mr. Chiao and Mr. Sharipov won’t come back until their mission ends in late April.

NASA tries to maintain a minimum of 45 days’ worth of food and other critical supplies. Space station manager William H. Gerstenmaier compared that limit to a “low gas” warning light on a car and said the space station’s warning light has been on for more than a month.

“We knew it was going to be extremely tight through this period,” he said.

The situation is worse than expected because the previous crew ate more than planned and that consumption was poorly tracked by people on the ground.

One of the things missing on the space station was turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Leroy really likes turkey for the holidays and he was disappointed that there wasn’t any onboard,” said Mr. Chiao’s wife, Karen.

NASA does have a space-qualified turkey dinner — but it’s just an ordinary $2.50 Dinty Moore no-refrigeration meal.

The crew members have run out of all their entree items and are putting together abbreviated meals. A typical meal now consists of tortillas with some canned appetizer meat.

“We’ve been eating more candy and deserts than we normally would. So we’re looking forward to some real food,” Mr. Chiao said.

Russian technicians also slipped a bag of fresh fruits and vegetables onto the Progress, he said. “Those are always favorites with the crews.”

Even with the tight cargo situation, there was room for some Christmas presents from home.

“There’s some good things and fun things in there,” Mr. Gerstenmaier said.

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