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Station Crew, Tourist Land Safely

April 8, 2009

Two members of the 18th crew to live and work aboard the International Space Station and a spaceflight participant returned to Earth at 2:16 a.m. CDT Wednesday. NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov and spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi safely landed their Soyuz spacecraft in the steppes of southern Kazakhstan.

The Expedition 18 crew members undocked their Soyuz from the station at 10:55 p.m. April 7. The deorbit burn to slow the Soyuz and begin its descent toward Earth began at 1:24 a.m. April 8. The landing was moved to a more southerly landing site because of poor landing conditions at the original site.

Fincke commanded the Expedition 18 mission, which saw the station go to full power and begin water supply recycling. He spent 178 days in orbit on this flight and has accumulated a full year in space during his career. Launching to the station on Oct. 12, 2008, he also became the first American to fly to and from the space station twice aboard a Russian Soyuz. Fincke served almost 188 days as a flight engineer on the Expedition 9 crew, which launched April 18, 2004, and returned to Earth on Oct. 23, 2004.

Lonchakov completed his first long-duration spaceflight. He spent nearly 12 days aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2001. He spent nearly 11 days in space in 2002, launching aboard one Soyuz craft and landing in another while carrying different crews to the space station and back. With this mission, he has accumulated a total of more than 200 days in space.

Simonyi, an American, spent 11 days on the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency. He is the only spaceflight participant to visit the station twice.

The Expedition 18 crew worked with a variety of experiments, including human life sciences, physical sciences and Earth observation. Many of the experiments are designed to gather information about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, which will help with planning future missions to the moon and beyond. Other experiments involved practical solutions to extended mission challenges such as repairing electrical components and fighting fire in microgravity.

Before undocking, Fincke and Lonchakov bid farewell to the new station crew, Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Mike Barratt, who launched to the station on a Soyuz March 26. Remaining on the station with Padalka and Barratt as an Expedition 19 crew member is Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata. Wakata launched to the orbiting laboratory on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission on March 15.

The Expedition 19 crew will be joined in orbit by Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk in May, inaugurating the station’s first six-person crew. It also will be the first time that crew members from all five International Space Station partners will be living aboard at the same time.

Image Caption: The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, carrying Expedition 18 Commander Michael Fincke, Flight Engineer Yury V. Lonchakov and American Spaceflight Participant Charles Simonyi, lands, Wednesday, April 8, 2009, near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Fincke and Lonchakov return after spending six months on the International Space Station, and Simonyi is returning from his launch with the Expedition 19 crew members 12 days earlier.  Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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