Space Station Astronauts Successfully Return To Earth
March 16, 2013

Space Station Astronauts Successfully Return To Earth

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Following a brief weather-related delay, three members of the Expedition 34 crew have successfully returned to Earth, NASA officials announced late Friday night.

International Space Station (ISS) commander Kevin Ford of NASA and Commander Evgeny Tarelkin and Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) landed at an airfield northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 10:10pm CDT Friday night (9:10am on Saturday local time), the US space agency confirmed in a statement.

Ford, Tarelkin and Novitskiy undocked their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft from the ISS at 6:43pm CDT after their initial departure had been delayed due to a severe winter storm. They had been scheduled to land in Kazakhstan early Friday morning, but were forced to postpone their return voyage due to fog and freezing rain in the area — conditions that would have hampered rescue helicopters deployed to rendezvous with the returning vehicle.

“Live footage on NASA TV showed all three men smiling as they were helped out of the capsule and into reclining chairs to begin their acclimatization to Earth's gravity,” the Associated Press (AP) reported early Saturday morning. “A NASA TV commentator said only two of 12 search and rescue helicopters were allowed to land at the touchdown site because of heavy clouds and fog. So instead of being placed in an inflatable medical tent for checks, the astronauts were taken fairly quickly to one of the helicopters.”

“The temperature at the time was well below freezing,” they added. “Space officials said the crew would be flown back to the staging site in Kazakhstan, a two-hour helicopter ride. From there, Ford would board a plane for Houston, Texas, and the Russians would be flown to Moscow.”

Now that the Expedition 34 crew is home, it marks the official start of Expedition 35, which will be led by Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield. He is the first Canadian to serve as the commander of the habitable satellite. Joining Hadfield will be crewmates Tom Marshburn of NASA and Roman Romanenko of Roscosmos. They will remain on board the ISS until the arrival of three additional crew members later on this month.

Ford, Tarelkin, and Novitskiy had originally arrived at the space station on October 25 of last year. They spent a total of 144 days in space, with all but two of them onboard the orbiting laboratory, NASA officials explained. While there, they orbited the Earth more than 2,300 times and travelled a total distance of over 61 million miles.

This is not the first time the return of a Soyuz crew has been delayed. In 2009, two separate incidents required one-day delays. One was because of inclement weather, while the other was due to technical reasons.