March 16, 2011

NASA, Russian Astronauts Successfully Return To Earth

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft has safely returned Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Russian Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka to Earth following a five-month stay on board the International Space Station (ISS), NASA officials announced Wednesday morning.

The three astronauts departed from the space station at 12:27am EDT and landed at a location north of the Kazakhstan town of Arkalyk at 3:54am, the US Space agency reported. Kaleri and Skripochka were set to travel to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, while Kelly was to return to his home in Houston, Texas, NASA officials added.

As the capsule touched down, Reuters reports that an announcer at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov said, "The capsule is on earth." The proclamation was met with "huge applause," the news agency added.

The three astronauts each spent a total of 159 days in space, with all but two of them taking place on board the ISS, and NASA reports that during the course of their mission, they "worked on more than 150 microgravity experiments in human research; biology and biotechnology; physical and materials sciences; technology development; and Earth and space sciences."

According to the AFP, Kelly is the brother-in-law of Gabrielle Giffords, the US Representative from Arizona who had been wounded by a would-be assassin outside of a grocery store back in January. He is the twin brother of Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, who is also an astronaut and will be heading up the final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavor next month.

Earlier this week, the next scheduled Soyuz mission was delayed due to a technical issue. That launch, which will begin the voyage of NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, to the space station, was originally scheduled to take place on March 30.

No official reschedule date has been announced, but various media outlets are reporting that it will take place sometime between April 5 and April 10.


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