Monday, May 23, 2011

Soyuz crew undocks; photographs space station-shuttle

Russian craft soars near shuttle Endeavour tonight. (NASA)

A Russian spacecraft departed the International Space Station tonight and captured the first in-space family portrait of the complex with a docked space shuttle.

Soyuz TMA-20 commander Dmitry Kondratyev, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli undocked from the orbiting laboratory's Rassvett module at 5:35 p.m. EDT today, as the complex flew 224 miles high over eastern China.

Kondratyev then flew the Soyuz straight out to a distance of 180 meters and began a 180-degree roll. Kondratyev then moved the Soyuz further out to 200 meters to begin a station keeping position.

Nespoli unstrapped from his seat in the Soyuz descent module and then transfered to the habitation module with digital and video cameras to record the massive complex.

The space station then began it's 120-degree motion to allow the Italian astronaut to shoot incredible images and record high def video of the shuttle-station complex.

Firing it's thrusters to stay stable, the photography from Soyuz occurred as the two spacecraft's soared 222 miles high along the Northern Pacific Ocean near the west coast of North America, and later south toward central Chile.

As Nespoli took images, Coleman reminded him not to forget to take video of the one million pound orbiting complex.

Kondratyev and Nespoli exchanged several comments on the beauty of the space station with the earth nearby.

The Soyuz TMA 20 is a three section spacecraft which includes the crew compartment, the descent module and the propulsion and instrumentation module which also includes the twin solar arrays. The middle module is the only section which re-enter's atmosphere and lands.

Soyuz fired it's separation thrusters at 6:15 p.m. to move away from the space station, and begin it's return to earth three hours later.

Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli lifted-off from Kazakhstan on December 15, and concluded 159 days in space tonight.

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