ISS Astronauts Wrap Up Expedition 39, Prepare For Return To Earth
[ Watch the Video: Expedition 39/40 Change of Command Ceremony ]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
After nearly six months aboard the International Space Station, three Expedition 39 astronauts wrap up their mission and prepare to return home to Earth. The crew, Commander Koichi Wakata, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Soyuz commander Mikhail Tyurin, performed the official ‘Change of Command’ ceremony before this evening’s departure.
The Expedition 39 crew also spent their last day tackling spacesuit maintenance and performing biomedical research before closing the hatch on the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft that will bring the three men home.
Wakata, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mastracchio, of NASA, and Tyurin, of Roscosmos, have spent 188 days in space after arriving at the orbiting lab back on November 7, 2013. They are scheduled to undock from the station at 6:36 p.m. EDT for a landing in the Kazakhstan steppe at about 9:58 p.m. EDT (7:58 a.m. Kazakh time). NASA TV will provide full live coverage of the return home of Expedition 39.
With the crew’s departure, the Command of the space station goes to Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA. Swanson and his crew, Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, both of Roscosmos, will operate the ISS for two weeks before three new crew arrive in late May. That launch, will consist of future Expedition 41 members Reid Wiseman, of NASA, Max Suraev, of Roscosmos, and Alexander Gerst, of ESA.
Wakata, the first Japanese commander of the ISS, passed the ceremonial command on to Swanson on Monday afternoon. Wakata spent much of his last day in space working in the station’s Columbus laboratory participating in the BP Reg experiment, a Canadian Space Agency medical study looking to understand the causes of fainting and dizziness seen in some astronauts who return to Earth following long-duration missions. Results of the study will not only help researchers understand and mitigate unwanted effects for returning astronauts, but will also have benefits for people on Earth – particularly those predisposed to falls and resulting injuries.
Mastracchio concluded his time aboard the station by helping Swanson replace a fan pump separator inside one of the US spacesuits. It was the faulty fan pump separator in Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit that resulted in a dangerous incident last summer during a planned spacewalk. The fault was with contamination clogging several small holes, preventing water from flowing properly, causing it to back up and flow into the spacesuit’s air system, where it entered the helmet and nearly drowned Parmitano.
On the Russian side of the complex, Tyurin completed the Lower Body Negative Pressure Training exercise to condition himself for Tuesday’s landing. During the exercise, Tyurin wore a special outfit that simulates the effects of gravity by drawing fluids to the lower half of the body. In addition to condition astronauts for the return home, the device also provides researchers with data to predict how astronauts will react to the full force of Earth’s gravity at the end of their mission.