Friday, December 11, 2015

Space Station Trio Return to Earth

The crew of the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft have returned to Earth after completing their 141 day-long mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko alongside crew mates Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at around 1:12 p.m. GMT.

Kononenko, Lindgren and Yui bid farewell to their Expedition 45 crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 9:49 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft, marking the official beginning of Expedition 46.

Lindgren tweeted: "All loaded up! Farewell to our Exp 45 crew mates
and the magnificent International Space Station! Hello Earth!"
credit: NASA
Expedition 45 flight engineer Sergey Volkov, who remains aboard the station with One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko had time to wish the departing crew one final goodbye shortly after undocking"Don't miss us too much- we'll see you in March."

The Soyuz TMA-17M crew have been living aboard the orbiting laboratory since July and have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments. Three Extra-Vehicular Activities(spacewalks) were also conducted during Expedition 44/45 to maintain the station.

The spacecraft landed in a flurry of snow storms in darkness which marked only the sixth night landing of a Soyuz vehicle returning from the International Space Station, and the first of such landings to take place after sunset. The crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and immediately flown to the remote town of Dzhezkazgan for primary medical testing and a welcoming ceremony.

Kononenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with his family. Lindgren and Yui will board a NASA plane for a flight back to Houston.

Altogether the crew have traveled 59.6 million miles in space since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 22 last.. 

This afternoon's landing concludes the third long duration space flight for Kononenko who has now logged a total of 533 days in space. NASA astronaut Lindgren and JAXA astronaut Yui, both returning from their first space flight, log 141 days in space.

In the meantime, station commander Scott Kelly along with Russian flight engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov will remain aboard the station until March 2 2016. Kelly and Kornienko have been living aboard the ISS since March of this year and are the first station crew members to participate in a year-long mission living and working aboard the laboratory.

Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov will be alone on the station for just four days before being joined on December 15 by the crew of the Soyuz TMA-19M comprising of veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and rookie space flier Tim Peake of the European Space Agency. Th trio are set to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:03 a.m.

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