Expedition 34 Return Home Delayed Due To Severe Weather, Undocking Scheduled For Tonight
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The return of three Expedition 34 crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) was delayed due to inclement weather at the landing site in Kazakhstan today. American astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin were scheduled to land early this morning but will be held over until the weather clears for a safe landing, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Russian space officials said a severe winter storm blanketed the region with fog and freezing rain and would hamper rescue helicopters deployed to make a rendezvous with the Soyuz landing. The scheduled undocking of the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft will now take place later this evening and arrive in the northeast region of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan Saturday morning (local time).
The three Expedition 34 crew had already boarded the capsule and were ready to close the hatch when Russian officials called off the undocking at the last minute.
Victor Solovyev, chief flight director at Russia´s Mission Control told the three crew members that “the weather is really horrible” and the undocking would have to be delayed. The official announcement of the delay came from the Russian state commission headed by veteran cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev.
“Due to the bad weather conditions in the Soyuz capsule landing zone, it has been decided to postpone the landing until March 16,” Roscosmos said on its website.
Russian meteorologists forecast better weather conditions for a Saturday morning landing, with mostly clear skies.
This is not the first time a Soyuz return was delayed. In 2009, two separate crews were held back a day; one due to inclement weather and another for technical reasons.
If the all clear is given, the three crew members will undock and depart the orbiting space lab at 7:43 p.m. EDT tonight and head for Arkalyk, Kazakhstan for a landing at around 11:06 p.m. EDT (Saturday March 16 at 9:06 a.m. local time). They will have spent 144 days in space since their October 23, 2012 launch.
When Soyuz undocks from the ISS, Canada Space Agency´s Chris Hadfield will take the reigns as Commander of Expedition 35. He will become the first Canadian astronaut to take command of the station. Hadfield and crewmates NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko will tend to the station for two weeks until three new members arrive: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin (future Expedition 36 crew).
NASA TV will have live coverage of the Expedition 34 crew departure beginning at 4 p.m. EDT today. After farewells between the crew members, the hatch on the Soyuz capsule will close at around 4:25 p.m. NASA coverage of the undocking will begin at 7:15 p.m. and landing coverage will begin at 9:45 p.m. and will continue until the crew touch down safely in Kazakhstan and arrive at the medical tent on site.