Saturday, September 25, 2010

Space Station Crew Safely Returns Home

Two Russians and one American returned back to earth this morning after spending 177 days in earth orbit, living and working aboard the International Space Station.

Soyuz TMA18 spacecraft commander and outgoing leader of the Expedition 24 crew, Alexander Skvortsov and flight engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko touched down upon the desert of Kazakhstan, near the town of Arkalyk today at 1:23 am EDT (0523 GMT).

In space, the orbital outpost flew high off the coast of Japan and over the western Pacific Ocean as the parachutes of the Soyuz lowered the craft to the desert floor.

Earlier in the day, the departing crew of three said farewell to the ongoing crew of Expedition 25 of Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin, and entered their Soyuz one last time for the trip home.

Hatches were officially closed at 6:35 pm and the trio went to work powering up the crafts systems for undocking.

It was the second try in as many days to undock from the complex.

Docked to the Russian Poisk module, ground controllers in Moscow had to scrub the first undocking attempt 24 hours earlier due to an electrical issue with the sealing of the module's hatch leading to the Soyuz.

As controllers counted down the final seconds to undocking, the separation bolts were released on time and the small spacecraft sailed away from it's port-of-call for the last 174 days at 10:02 pm.

As the two spacecraft flew 222 miles high over the Russia - Mongolia boarder, Skvortsov slowly guided his ship back away from the station to prepare for a separation burn which will carry the crew swiftly away.

Firing it's engines on time, the Soyuz performed a four minute deorbit burn at 12:31 am today to slow the craft by 259 miles per hour, and allow for it to drop out of earth orbit during a precise keyhole in space.

Twenty-five minutes later, the support module attached to the Soyuz crew module was then jettisoned, exposing the heat shield and setting up the craft's change in it's attitude for reentry.

The crew's plunge into the atmosphere gave them their first effects of gravity since their April 2 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Recovery crews aboard ground transports and Russian helicopters were on station as the module landed with a thud under a huge main chute -- kicking up dirt from it's impact on a cool late-morning Saturday.

Their stay aboard the station witnessed two space shuttle visits by Discovery and Atlantis; one Soyuz crew departure for earth and weeks later an arrival of the current Soyuz TMA 19 crew; and Caldwell-Dyson and Wheelock performed three spacewalks in August to replace and install a needed backup cooling unit for the space station.

The next crew to launch from Baikonur to the station will be aboard an upgraded Soyuz TMA 01M on October 7, docking 49 hours later to the orbital complex.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Soyuz Undocking from Space Station Delayed

A Russian spacecraft with a crew of three failed to undock from the International Space Station on Thursday night due to mechanical issues which could not be fixed between the craft and it's docking port.

"The planned undocking was prevented when commands being sent to disengage the hooks and latches holding the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft failed", NASA Mission Control told this reporter this morning. "The spacecraft remains securely docked to the Poisk module."

The Russian Poisk module is home to the docking port in which the Soyuz craft is docked.

At this time, engineers both in Moscow and at the Johnson Space Center south of Houston, are working to uncover the issue.

Several I spoke with at the American space agency feel that the issue is electrical, however more time is needed to understand exactly where the problem lies.

On Thursday evening, as the hatch from the station to the Poisk was being closed, controlers did not receive the proper indication early on that the small switches latched to seal the compartment for undocking. They later received good confirmation following several leak checks.

The departing expedition 24 of commander Alexander Skvortsov, and flight engineersTracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko returned from their Soyuz and reentered the space station at about 12:30 am following the undocking scrub.

The trio then spent time exercising and discussing the issue at hand with their fellow crew members Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin for a meal and then began their sleep period at about 3 am.

Moscow has now rescheduled undocking for 10:02 pm EDT tonight (0202 GMT). The daytime landing would then occur two orbits later at 1:21 am Saturday morning on the desert floor of Kazakhstan near the town of Arkalyk (11:21 am local time).

Today marks the expedition 24 crew's 176th day in space since their launch on April 2; and their 174th day living aboard the space station.

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin complete the current 25th expedition crew, and following the Soyuz undocking tonight, will be alone for two weeks until a new crew arrives.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Change of Command aboard the Space Station

The quarterly changing of command aboard the orbiting International Space Station occurred again tonight as the commander of the twenty-fourth expedition crew handed over control of the orbiting complex to a new commander.

In a traditional ceremony aboard the orbiting complex, Russian commander Alexander Skvortsov and his Soyuz crew of flight engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko said goodbye to their three crew mates which rounded out the expedition 24 crew of six. They also thanked controlers on the ground around the globe in helping with their science chores over the last six months.

Launched to the station on April 2, the crew of three will enter their Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft on Thursday, seal the hatches leading to the station at 6:20 pm EDT (2220 GMT), and undock tomorrow night at 9:35 pm (0135 GMT) for their trip home.

Landing in the desert region of Kazakhstan is set for Friday at 12:55 am EDT (0455 GMT).

New station commander Doug Wheelock and flight engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin will begin expedition 25 following the Soyuz's undocking on Thursday evening.

They will live and work aboard the space station until late-November.

Wheelock and his crew will spend the next two weeks alone, but preparing the complex for a busy month ahead.

On October 7, a new upgraded Soyuz TMA 01M will launch out of Kazakhstan with a new crew to begin their six month stay; and on November 1, the space shuttle Discovery is set to launch from Florida with fresh supplies and a new permanent Multi-Purpose Module which will be used for storage of cargo and trash.

During expedition 24, American astronauts Dyson and Wheelock performed three spacewalks in August to
to install a 780 pound spare ammonia pump on the station's Starboard 1 truss segment to assist with future cooling needs.

Two Progress supply ships also brought up extra needed cargo and supplies which included fuel, oxygen and personal needs for the crew of six.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Russia Launches Cargo Craft to Space Station

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts-off today from Kazakhstan.

The Russian Space Agency today launched an unmanned cargo craft into low earth orbit, beginning a three day chase to catch up with and dock with the International Space Station.

Loaded with 2.5 tonnes of supplies and fuel, the Progress M-07M supply ship lifted off aboard a Soyuz-U rocket at 6:22:57 am EDT (10:22 GMT) from launch pad 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the desert of western Kazakhstan.

Docking to the Russian Zvezda service modules aft section of the station is planned for Sunday at 7:58 am (11:58 GMT).

Today's successful launch was delayed two days due to high winds in excess of 32 mph in the launch area.

This newest supply trip is carrying 1,918 pounds of propellant; 110 pounds of oxygen, 375 pounds of water; and 2,645 pounds of spare parts, experiment parts and other supplies, according to NASA's Mission Control Center.

Hours after docking, the space station's crew of six --
Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Mikhail Kornienko, Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin -- will open the hatches between the Progress and Zvezda and begin unloading their new found bounty of life supporting treasures.
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