Soyuz TMA-13M returns crew back to Earth

by Chris Bergin

Another three humans took the orbital commute back to Earth on Monday morning, this time via the Russian Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft. Soyuz Commander Maxim Suraev of Roscosmos successfully carried out his task of guiding his spacecraft toward a parachute-assisted landing on the on the steppe of Kazakhstan, With him were NASA Flight Engineer Reid Wiseman and ESA’s Alexander Gerst.

Soyuz Return:

The trio arrived at the orbital outpost on the Soyuz TMA-13M, the vehicle they used to return back home.

The End Of Mission (EOM) events marked the end of an eventful six month mission, with Suraev now totalling 334 days in space on two flights, while Wiseman and Gerst will have logged 165 days in space via their debut ISS mission.

2014-11-10 00_11_00-LIVE_ Soyuz TMA-13M EOM Events (Undock, Entry, Landing) - November 9-10, 2014All three crewmembers enjoyed an excursion outside of the Station via spacewalks.

Commander Maksim Suraev was joined by Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev on RS-40 last month, removing and jettisoning unneeded hardware and decommissioned experiments in what was the final EVA of 2014.

Wiseman and Gerst both worked together on EVA-27 on October 7, performing clean-up, replacement, and installation tasks on the exterior of the station.

Z5Both were also involved in showing their support for their respective nations during the World Cup, even attempting a kick-about in zero G with a miniature football.

Following farewells, the clock started ticking towards the start of Expedition 42, which formally began aboard the Station – under the command of NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore – when the Soyuz undocked.

Along with his crewmates Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of Roscosmos, Wilmore will operate the station as a three-person crew for two weeks until the arrival of three new crew members.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, November 23.

In preparation for that safe trip home, the Soyuz TMA-13M 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 as it departed from the Station’s neighborhood.

2014-11-10 00_39_29-NASA Public“Don’t be sad, your home awaits you,” was the call from MCC Moscow as the Soyuz moved further away from Station.

The deorbit burn was the next key milestone of the return leg, conducted at 10:05pm Eastern, around one hour ahead of landing.

The burn took four minutes and 41 seconds to complete, reducing the Soyuz’s velocity just enough for it to begin the plunge back to Earth.

The Soyuz then “eased” (the reality is a rather bumpy return) its way to the ground under parachute, ahead of a landing southeast of Dzhezkazgan.

2014-11-10 00_17_08-Soyuz Recovery - Google SearchThe next immediate task involved the extraction of the crew from the SA by the Russian recovery forces that raced to the Soyuz’s aid.

The crew were transferred almost immediately on to special chairs, where medical checks were conducted, ahead of being moved to a medical tent to prepare them for transit.

They were loaded on to MI-8 helicopters and flown to a nearby airfield, where the crew parted ways.

Suraev was flown back to Star City, while Wiseman boarded a NASA Gulfstream III aircraft and flown back to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas – via two refuelling stops in Glasgow, Scotland, and Goose Bay, Canada.

Gerst was flown back to Cologne, Germany.

Dragon Soon:

While the Russian Soyuz ferry crews up and down from the ISS, SpaceX’s next Dragon spacecraft is patiently waiting her turn for another trip to the orbital outpost.

The CRS-5/SpX-5 Dragon is currently scheduled to launch on December 9. However, that launch date remains unconfirmed, as NASA managers negotiate potential changes to the Dragon cargo compliment.

Potential changes relate to cargo that was lost when Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle recently failed just seconds after lift off. Antares’ passenger, the CRS-3 Cygnus – that was heading to the ISS – was also lost in the accident.

SpaceX is pressing ahead with the December 9 target as a planning date, and have set a preliminary date of December 2 – per L2 – for the Static Fire of the Falcon 9 tasked with lofting the Dragon on her way to the Station.

(Images: via NASA, Roscosmos, NASA, SpaceX and L2.).

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