Saturday, March 13, 2010

Space Station Residents Prepare for Return to Earth

Williams floats in the scenic Cupola module. (NASA)

The crew aboard the International Space Station are preparing today to begin a crew rotation which will see the departure of two and the arrival of three new residents.

Expedition 22 station commander Jeffery Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev are finalizing the loading of their Russian Soyuz-TMA 16 spacecraft for the return trip home to earth following 175 days in space.

Soyuz undocking is planned for Thursday morning at 4:03 am EDT (0703 GMT). The two will then return upon the deserts central Asia later that morning at 7:24 am.

The duo launched on September 30th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and docked to station two days later.

Following the Soyuz undocking, three crew members will be left aboard to become the core for the new Expedition 23 crew, led by new commander Oleg Kotov. Flight Engineers Soichi Noguchi and NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer will round out the crew.

An official commander to commander handover is set for Wednesday morning at 7:45 am.

The trio will not be alone for long as new residents launch to earth's orbital outpost in April to begin their six month journey aboard station.

Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko are set to lift-off aboard their Soyuz TMA18 spacecraft from Baikonur on April 2 at 12:04 am EDT (0404 GMT).

The Soyuz is scheduled to dock on April 4 at 12:28 am (0428 GMT), with hatch opening three hours later.

Three days later, seven guests will show up as the space shuttle Discovery returns to begin eight days of docked operations to resupply the space station.

In addition to fresh food, water, oxygen and personal supplies, Discovery will add a new ammonia tank and supply racks aboard station.

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