The crew of the International Space Station during an interview with NPR's Scott Simon. From left to right: Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin, Commander Ken Bowersox and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit.
Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin inside the Soyuz escape vehicle. The Expedition Six crew will likely use the vehicle to return to Earth in April.
In the wake of the Feb. 1 loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-person crew, NASA has suspended all manned flights to space. But a few humans remain in Earth orbit — the three-man crew of the International Space Station. NPR's Scott Simon spoke with the ISS astronauts about their reaction to Columbia's loss.
"The whole situation was very personal for us because we knew those guys who were on [Columbia mission] STS-107 very well," Ken Bowersox, the American commander of the Expedition Six crew, told Simon. "They were good friends. We had contact with them here and we shared a mission — a mission to explore and a mission to do science in space. So it was very painful."
NASA officials have said they want to bring the Expedition Six crew back home in late April. Because the shuttle fleet is grounded, the crew will have to use the Russian-made Soyuz escape vehicle already docked at the station for the voyage home.
The crew, which also includes Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin and American science officer Don Petit, was originally scheduled to return aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in March. Bowersox says the crew is mentally prepared for the extension in their stay.
"We enjoy the environment, we enjoy being on the space station," Bowersox said. "If we get extra time here, that's actually going to be a good thing."