The three crewmembers of Soyuz TMA-10M have safely returned to Earth, following their landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan, southeast of Dzhezkazgan. Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov, along with Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy and Michael Hopkins, concluded their mission in space, with a parachute assisted touchdown in frigid conditions.
Due to the wintry conditions in the landing area, which forced recovery crews to return to base earlier in the day, it is understood that Russian managers at Roscosmos initially delayed the landing by 24 hours.
However, this decision was reversed a few hours later, based on a forecast that showed the weather was expected to deteriorate even further over coming days. As such, the teams pressed ahead with the undocking of Soyuz TMA-10M from the orbital outpost at 8:02 pm EDT, as had been previously scheduled.
In preparation for that safe trip home, the Soyuz TMA-10M 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.
Following undocking, the Soyuz enjoyed a few hours of free flight. “Bye bye, Station,” noted former commander and space veteran Kotov, as the Soyuz backed away from the giant structure.
An extended view of the Soyuz moving away from the Station was provided by ISS cameras, as the Russian spacecraft crossed over the Pacific Ocean into an orbital sunset.
The deorbit burn was successfully conducted at 10:30pm EDT, allowing for the landing less than one hour later.
The spacecraft landed near some strange looking structures, later to be classed as above ground graves in an old cemetery – although the spacecraft missed structures by a safe distance.
The next immediate task was to extract the crew from the SA by the Russian recovery forces that raced to the Soyuz’s aid.
Once removed, the crew were transferred almost immediately to the MI-8 helicopters to a nearby airfield, where the crew will part ways. Only four helicopters were sent to the landing site – and the usual option of erecting a medical tent at the landing site was not taken – due to the poor weather.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy will be flown back to Star City, while Hopkins will be 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.
Kotov has now completed his third mission aboard the orbital laboratory for a total of 526 days in space. He served as a flight engineer during Expedition 15 in 2007. He then served for six months as an Expedition 22/23 crew member beginning in December 2009.
Hopkins and Ryazanskiy departed the Station on what has been their first space mission each accumulating 166 days in space.
NASA’s Hopkins conducted a pair of US EVAs, totalling 12 hours and 58 minutes outside of the Station.
He worked alongside NASA’s Rick Mastracchio for the first pair of Expedition 38 EVAs tasked with installing a new ammonia pump module to restore the station’s cooling system over the Christmas period – a vital task that proved to be a complete success.
Ryazanskiy also conducted three Russian spacewalks during his mission, including the first-of-its-kind Olympic torch relay in space with his commander, as part of the promotion for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
At the time of undocking, Expedition 39 formally began operations under the command of Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the first Japanese commander of the complex.
The crew members arrived at the Station’s Rassvet module November 7 aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. They are scheduled to return home in mid-May.
Wakata and his crewmates, NASA Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, will operate the station as a three-person crew for two weeks until the arrival of three new crew members, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, who are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan March 25.
Those crewmembers are currently in Star City, Russia, completing mission training and making final preparations for their March 25 launch aboard a Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
The next major ISS event will be the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The CRS-3/SpX-3 mission is currently scheduled to launch early on March 16, with berthing via the Space Station Remote Manipulator to follow a few days later.
(Images via NASA and NASA TV)