NASASpaceflightNOW - NASA managers have been meeting today to debate the option of removing the US presence from the International Space Station (ISS) when Discovery undocks at the latter part of STS-124.
Meanwhile, STS-124 processing continues to pick up the pace, following the recent replacement of a faulty MDM (Multiplexer/Demultiplexer) card (FA2), and a Russian re-supply ship (Progress 29P) has successfully docked with the ISS.
The discussions relate to confidence levels in the Russian Soyuz - that is currently docked on Station as a rescue vehicle in the event of an evacuation - while an ongoing investigation into Soyuz TMA-11's ballistic re-entry continues.
The 'down moded' option taken by the Soyuz TMA-11's flight computers - commanding the vehicle into a ballistic re-entry - is still in the midst of a Russian investigation, which is not likely to come to a conclusion ahead of STS-124.
The debate focuses around US confidence in the Soyuz as a 'solid rescue vehicle' - as previously reported by this site. The docked Soyuz is the only means of evacuation from the ISS during an emergency in-between shuttle missions.
The options being discussed relate to either changing the crew size riding up on Discovery to six - minus expedition 17's Gregory Chamitoff - and returning Garrett Reisman as planned, or launching with Chamitoff, before bringing him home with Garrett on Discovery.
These options - noted as 6 up/7 down and 7 up/8 down - have been debated since Wednesday, with Friday's meeting relating to the latter option of bringing eight crewmembers home with Discovery. Orbiters are capable of bringing home 10 astronauts - if required
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