September 16, 2011
Expedition 28 Crew Lands Safely In Kazakhstan
A Russian Soyuz capsule safely returned three returning astronauts from the International Space Station Thursday, September 15 at 9:59 a.m. in Kazakhstan (11:59 a.m. EDT), after a 5-month stay at the Earth-orbiting outpost.
NASA´s Ron Garan, Expedition 28 commander Andrey Borisenko and flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev, both of the Russian Federal Space Agency, were due back on September 8, but that was postponed due to the August 24 crash of Roscosmos´ Progress 44 cargo ship.
Though the crew returned safely, it was not without some tense moments; a breakdown in communications occurred for several minutes, well after the craft had de-orbited. Repeated calls to the Soyuz TMA-21 capsule went unanswered, unnerving Mission Control in Korolyov. Communications were eventually re-established between the crew and an Antonov fixed-wing aircraft circling the landing site.
“We now can confirm that Soyuz TMA-21 has landed,” an announcer said on NASA TV. He later described it as a “bulls-eye landing.”
The Soyuz capsule landed on its side, settling on the steppe about 92 miles southeast of the city of Zhezkazgan. Samokutyaev emerged from the craft first, appearing in good spirits as a doctor performed medical checks. Live pictures of the landing and emergence of the crew were broadcast on NASA TV.
Garan was the second to emerge, followed lastly by Borisenko, who flashed a thumbs-up before he and his colleagues were carried in their chairs to a makeshift hospital for further medical evaluations.
The crew spent 164 days in space, according to NASA. But the launch of their replacements (NASA flight engineer Dan Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin), scheduled to arrive on the ISS on September 24, has been postponed because of the August 24 Russian cargo ship crash.
The upper-stage motor that failed on the Progress 44 rocket is virtually identical to one used to fly crew to the station on Soyuz rockets. The crew is now scheduled to make the journey in mid-November after Russian engineers and officials complete their investigations and give an okay on the safety of the manned Soyuz rockets.
In the meantime, the ISS will run with just one three-person crew -- comprised of station commander Mike Fossum (who was given the reigns from Borisenko before he departed), Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov.
They will have little time to prepare the new crew to take over the station before heading home themselves around November 22.
Another potential delay in the launch of the next manned flight to the ISS, could mean the station goes unmanned for the first time in nearly 11 years.
Russian space officials deployed 14 Mi-8 helicopters in a holding circular pattern, as well as half a dozen all-terrain vehicles, as they awaited the arrival of the Soyuz capsule carrying the three astronauts. But there was no need for a search and recovery mission this go-around.
“What these helicopters do is that they sort of arrive at a targeted area and hover for a bit until they get a confirmation of exactly where the Soyuz has landed. But we actually did not hover at all today, we came straight in to the landing site,” said NASA spokesman Josh Byerly, speaking from the landing site.
At the makeshift hospital, some 30 yards away from the landing site, Russian space officials jubilantly exchanged congratulations and posed for photos. Some fixed a photo of Russian space pioneer Yury Gagarin together with seminal rocket designer Sergei Korolyov, after whom the Moscow mission was named.
The three astronauts will be flown by helicopter to the city of Karaganda, after which the two Russian cosmonauts will fly by airplane to Chkalovsky airport near Moscow. Garan will leave directly for the United States with a NASA support crew.
Image Caption: The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko, and Flight Engineers Ron Garan, and Alexander Samokutyaev in a remote area outside of the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. NASA Astronaut Garan, Russian Cosmonauts Borisenko and Samokutyaev are returning from more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 27 and 28 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
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