Wednesday, March 16, 2011
One American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts completed their day stay aboard the International Space Station this morning, departing and landing on the snowy region in Kazakhstan.
Outgoing station commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly along with Russian's Alexander Kalery and Oleg Skripochka said their goodbyes to the new commander of the outpost Dmitry Kondratyev, and flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli on Tuesday evening.
Kondratyev officially became commander of the station during a change of command ceremony on Monday.
"Have fun Scott, soft landings," American Coleman shouted over to her departing NASA crew mate minutes before Kondratyev closed the station's inner hatch.
"It's quite here now. It's hard to believe they're going back to earth," Coleman said to European astronaut Nespoli with the hatch fully sealed.
The hatches between the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft and the space station's Poisk module were officially closed at 9:25 p.m. EDT, on Tuesday. Leak checks followed to ensure proper air pressure inside the spacecraft.
During this time, an LED light indicated that the inner hatch was not sealed properly. Trouble shooting discovered that the light was faulty following a thirty minute leak check.
The new Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft is replacing the older outdated analog controlled spacecraft. Russia's space agency informs this reporter that the new craft carries "new in-flight measurement systems, new guidance, navigation and control equipment". New avionic computer systems on the craft saved 150 pounds of weight.
The Soyuz undocked on time at 12:27 a.m. today over western China with Kelly, Kalery and Skripochka having spent 157 days living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Just after undocking, the crew aboard Soyuz performed two tests and two separation burns to carry the craft out and away from the orbital outpost.
Five minutes following separation, Soyuz stopped and began a station-keeping mode beginning at 50 meters (164 feet) away to check several systems on the new craft, including the avionics system on it's Jupiter panel.
The Soyuz orbited the earth twice before firing it's engines for just over four minutes to slow the craft down and begin it's deorbit at 3:03 a.m.
Touchdown occurred on time at 3:53 a.m. today, upon the snowy desert region in northern Kazakhstan, and wrapping up 159 days in space.
Seconds after landing in an artic cold, windy region located 49 miles north of A, the craft tip on it's side as winds of 36 m.p.h. pushed the Soyuz parachutes caring the craft 24 yards across the deep snow.
Kelly stated a few weeks ago his hopes of returning to space one day soon. His twin brother is scheduled to arrive at the space station for a much shorter visit on April 21 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.
For Kalery, the landing marked a huge milestone for him and long duration space flight. He now is listed as second for the most time in space by a human 770 days during five separate flights.
The next crew to launch to the space station of one American and two Russians will join the new Expedition 27 crew during the second week of April.