The Russian Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:26pm UTC, ahead of a safe return to Earth early on Monday (local time). Fyodor Yurchikhin, Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg were onboard, as their mission concluded on the steppe of Kazakhstan at around 2:49am UTC.
The three crewmembers of ISS Expedition 36/37 were in the final leg of their six month mission in space, one that was rather eventful for at least one of the astronauts.
The big Italian onboard the Soyuz will have many a tale to tell now he has landed on terra firma, not least due to his eventful EVA that was terminated due to water collecting in his helmet. An important update on the ongoing investigation will be published early this week.
In preparation for their trip home, the Soyuz TMA-09M crew donned their Sokol launch and entry suits, closed the hatch between the Orbital Module (BO) and Descent Module (SA), and strapped themselves into their Kazbek couches inside the SA.
They then spent a few hours of free flight in the Soyuz, prior to its de-orbit burn, followed by a landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan on the Steppe of Kazakhstan.
With the three crewmembers extracted and examined by Russian recovery forces, they will be flown by MI-8 helicopters to a nearby airfield, where the crew will part ways, with Nyberg boarding a NASA Gulfstream III aircraft to be flown back to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas – via two refuelling stops in Glasgow, Scotland, and Goose Bay, Canada.
The return of the crew will mark the immediate conclusion to a very busy few days for the ISS.
During what was a four day direct handover, the Station enjoyed a crew compliment of nine people, while two of the crew spent six hours on the outside of the orbital outpost during a Russian EVA.
EVA-36 – conducted by Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy – was a scheduled spacewalk, aimed mainly at the preparations on the Urthecast pointing platform for installation of the HD camera in December.
However, the bulk of the media attention was on the first two hours of the EVA, which involved the space relay of the Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The torch is onboard the Soyuz TMA-09M for its return to Earth where it will eventually be used to light the Olympic flame at the games.
In the run-up to the arrival of the latest three crewmembers, the Soyuz TMA-09M was relocated from the ISS Mini-Research Module (MRM)-1 and docked to the Service Module (SM) Aft port. The relocation cleared the MRM-1 docking port of the Soyuz TMA-11M.
“The docking (of Soyuz TMA-11M) was performed in +zvv attitude, then returned to the nominal +xvv attitude,” noted L2 ISS Status.
“All solar array positioning and latching/unlatching operations occurred as planned for this dock activity which occurred near the end of the November high negative solar beta period.”
The High Beta ops have provided ISS controllers with the challenge of controlling the thermal conditions for the ISS, with continued notes on tweaking the Starboard Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint (STRRJ) angles in response to the optimum environment for the associated hardware on the Station.
“The Starboard Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint (STRRJ) was preemptively moved to gamma angle +60 to provide a suitable thermal environment for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS),” added the L2 notes.
AMS arrived at the Station during Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission, where it has been performing high quality science ever since, measuring antimatter in cosmic rays and search for evidence of dark matter.
“Controllers monitoring the Flow Control Valve (FCV) position on the External Active Thermal Control System (EATCS) Loop A saw indications of the FCV reaching higher angles than expected (an indicator of future degraded heat rejection capability),” the notes added.
“Controllers decrease STRRJ gamma angle to +55 degrees. The Loop A FCV responded and the heat rejection functionality is performing as expected.
Notes also show controllers conducted a further S1 TRRJ move to +50 Degrees, which worked as planned with AMS temperatures remaining within acceptable levels.
(Images via NASA and NASA TV).