U. S., Japanese and Russian Astronauts Return to Earth to Close Out Four Month Space Station Mission
U. S., Japanese and Russian astronauts descended safely to Earth late Sunday, touching down aboard their Soyuz spacecraft in wintry northern Kazakhstan after a 127 day mission to the International Space Station
The capsule carrying Sunita Williams, of NASA, the station’s commander; Akihiko Hoshide, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos, touched down under an overcast sky northwest of Arkalyk at 8:56 p.m., EST, or Monday at 7:56 a.m., in the pre-dawn, local time.
Their four months on the orbiting science lab included three unscheduled spacewalks for Williams and Hoshide to resolve thermal control and electrical system issues and a single excursion by Malenchenko and another cosmonaut to prepare the Russian segment for a future science module.
The landing in darkness was unusual for a Soyuz crew, but approved by the U. S. led station mission management team because of upgrades to the Soyuz capsule’s GPS navigation system.
The capsule descended into several inches of freshly fallen snow. The wind chill lowered temperatures to just above 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
As Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko departed the space station at 5:26 p.m., EST, command of the orbital outpost shifted to Kevin Ford, also of NASA. He remains aboard with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.
They are scheduled to be joined on Dec. 21 by three more astronauts, Tom Marshburn, of NASA; Roman Romanenko, ofRussia; and Chris Hadfield, of the Canadian Space Agency.
Malenchenko, Williams and Hoshide were to be flown from the landing site in individual helicopters to Kostanay inCentral Kazakhstan.
Williams and Hoshide will travel by NASA jet to Houston,Tex., home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Malenchenko will fly separately to Star City, Russia.