Soyuz touchdown: ISS Expedition 33 back home without a hitch
Soyuz TMA-05M undocked from the ISS at 2:23am Moscow time Monday (22.23 GMT Sunday) and commenced its perilous spiral descent from its more-than-300km orbit to the surface of the planet. Just one second’s delay would relocate the touchdown area by two kilometers, but the descent vehicle entered the atmosphere according to schedule.
The landing took over 3.5 hours and at 5:56am RIA Novosti reported a successful touchdown to the north-east of the town of Arkalyk.
The descent and landing are always extreme g-forces for cosmonauts inside the reentry module and extreme temperatures for the vehicle: it heats to thousands of degrees Celsius while passing into the atmosphere. And this time there was a snow on the ground awaiting it.
This landing was also unusual because it was pre-dawn, which happens only once every few years. Reportedly the last time it happened was in 2006. And in any case this landing, monitored by three planes, 21 helicopters and six rescue vehicles, has become the first pre-dawn one for the new fully-digital Soyuz TMA.
The crew that returned back on Earth consists of Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Japanese Aerospace Exploration flight engineer Akihiko Hoshide. They spent 127 days on the ISS which made Williams second-most experienced female astronaut in history and Hoshide the second-most experienced Japanese astronaut ever. For cosmonaut Malenchenko, this expedition was the fifth in his career and his overall time spent on orbit has now passed the 640 days mark.
Yury Malenchenko became the first man to conduct a “remote wedding” on the ISS. In 2003 he married Ekaterina Dmitrieva, a US citizen of Russian descent he got acquainted in Houston. Ekaterina’s mother was NASA employee at the time.
During their mission the crew of Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide unloaded three Progress cargo ships and a private cargo from the US Dragon, undocked – from a second try – European cargo ATV-3, made four spacewalks and conducted a large number of scientific experiments.
Though the Expedition 33 has left the ISS, the next Expedition 34, which arrived at the station in October, continues the mission. It consists of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Evgeny Tarelkin, as well as NASA astronaut Kevin Ford. They will spend five months on the orbiting laboratory.
In December, the Expedition 33 crewmembers will assist with the first-ever arrival of “Cygnus”, a commercial cargo vehicle from the Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia. The crew will also unload next two commercial SpaceX “Dragon” spacecraft missions, as well as four Russian “Progress” re-supply vehicles.
The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is seen shortly after it landed with the International Space Station (ISS) crew of Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan November 19, 2012. (Reuters/Maxim Shipenkov)
In this NASA November 18, 2012 released photo shows the Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA (R), and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko of ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federal Space Agency), and Akihiko Hoshide (L) of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), sit in chairs outside the Soyuz Capsule just minutes after they landed in a remote area outside the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on November 19, 2012. (AFP Photo/NASA/Bill Ingalls)