Soyuz Module Transports Trio Of ISS Astronauts Back To Earth
July 2, 2012

Soyuz Module Transports Trio Of ISS Astronauts Back To Earth

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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Three International Space Station (ISS) crew members successfully returned to Earth Sunday morning, with their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft touching down in a remote section of Kazakhstan at 4:14am EDT (2:14pm local time), NASA officials announced on Sunday.

According to CNET's William Harwood, Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers, and NASA flight engineer Donald Pettit landed near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Sunday morning, ending their six-month stay on board the space station.

"Russian recovery crews stationed nearby rushed to the spacecraft and opened the main hatch within minutes to begin assisting the station fliers as they began their re-adaptation to gravity after 193 days in the weightlessness of space," Harwood said.

"Because of the entry trajectory and the location of ground stations, Russian flight controllers were unable to communicate with the crew during the final stages of the descent, but recovery personnel reported no problems as the spacecraft made an on-target, upright landing," he added.

Pettit, Kononenko, and Kuipers had departed the ISS some three and a half hours before their landing, as their Soyuz space capsule undocked and began floating away from the station, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Their touchdown completed "a perfect upright textbook landing" and Russian space officials quickly surrounded the module and helped the trio of astronauts disembark, officially closing the book of their 193-day mission in space, 191 days of which were spend onboard the ISS.

"During their expedition, the crew supported more than 200 scientific investigations involving more than 400 researchers around the world. The studies ranged from integrated investigations of the human cardiovascular and immune systems to fluid, flame and robotic research," NASA officials said in a July 1 press release.

"Before leaving the station, Kononenko handed over command of Expedition 32 to the Russian Federal Space Agency's Gennady Padalka, who remains aboard the station with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Revin," the US space agency added. "NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will join them July 17. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide are scheduled to launch July 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan."

After departing from the ISS, Kononenko and his colleagues tested a new digital autopilot that would allow astronaut members to complete a manual docking without requiring lab crew members to re-orient the station, Harwood said. He then moved the Soyuz vehicle into position approximately six miles from the station to prepare for re-entry procedures. After firing rockets to slow the spacecraft, the Soyuz, with the heat shield pointing forward, entered the atmosphere at an altitude of 61.5 miles, and eight minutes later deployed their main parachute, he added.

"It's been a privilege to serve as commander of the space station and to work with such a good crew as well as such dedicated ground support staff," Kononenko said during a change-of-command ceremony on Friday, according to CNET reports. "The station is an accomplishment, the result of the cooperative effort of mankind which has expanded understanding between individual people and nations. The exploration of space is one of the great opportunities for us to test ourselves and our limits and to focus our energies into positive efforts that will benefit everyone."