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Station’s First Female Commander Confident of Soyuz Fix

May 3, 2008

HOUSTON —
The first female commander of the International Space Station (ISS) said Friday
that she is confident Russian engineers will find the source of a glitch that
sent a Soyuz spacecraft off course during her April 19 landing with two
crewmates.

U.S.
astronaut Peggy Whitson
, who commanded the station’s six-month Expedition
16 mission, told reporters here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center that Russia’s
Federal Space Agency and an independent group looking into her off-target
landing and an earlier one from October should find the root cause.

“They’ll
get to the bottom of it,” said Whitson, adding that the Russian agency’s
decision to include outside investigators in their review will
aid the process
. “That will be a better way of having it less
biased.”

Whitson
returned to Earth aboard a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft with Russian
cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko to complete a 192-day space station flight with a
landing on the central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan. South Korea’s first
astronaut So-yeon Yi also returned to Earth with them to wrap up an 11-day trek
to the station.

The Soyuz
returned to Earth under a ballistic flight path, a steeper-than-normal descent
that subjected Whitson and her crewmates to just over eight times the force of
Earth’s gravity, about twice what she expected. Whitson said the ballistic
landing approach is something she and Malenchenko were prepared for since it
occurred during the return of the station’s Expedition 15 crew last fall.

The plunge
through the Earth’s atmosphere was bumpy, with a malfunction delaying the
separation between the Soyuz’s crew-carrying capsule and its disposable
propulsion module. But thorough training compensated for a loss of
communications with Russia’s Mission Control during the entire descent, Whitson
said.

A group of
eight local Kazakhs greeted the Soyuz spaceflyers and helped Whitson and Yi out
of the spacecraft, even if they didn’t fully believe the astronauts came from
space.

“Hearing
Yuri tell the story as he was trying to explain to them where we came from was
very entertaining,” Whitson said with a laugh.

Whitson
returned to her Houston home here last Saturday and is readapting to living
life under the tug of Earth’s gravity. Her garden, which she was looking
forward to seeing again after six months in orbit, is in good shape.

“I
haven’t been doing any digging yet, but I have checked out all my flowers to
see which ones are doing well,” Whitson told SPACE.com.

A veteran
of two long-duration missions to the space station, Whitson is NASA’s reigning
champion for the most days in space (377 days over two expeditions) and said
her readjustment to Earth’s gravity is going well.

During her
Expedition 16 flight, she set a new record for the most spacewalking time by a
female astronaut and helped install a connecting module, Europe’s
Columbus laboratory
, and a storage
room
for Japan’s massive Kibo laboratory. The main segment for Japan’s Kibo
lab, a tour bus-sized module that will become the station’s largest room, is poised
to launch
May 31 aboard NASA’s shuttle Discovery.

“I
would have loved to have had the whole thing there. I’m greedy that way,”
Whitson said of the Kibo laboratory. “It was a lot of fun opening up new
modules. It’s just an incredible new volume that we have, so that was very
neat.”


Source: imaginova



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