Spaceflight Insider

Expedition 39 trio makes safe landing in Kazakhstan after six months in space

The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 39 crew near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

It was all smiles as NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin were carried from their Soyuz TMA-11 after a textbook landing in Kazakhstan at 9:58 p.m. EDT ( 7:58 a.m. local time on Wednesday). The Soyuz TMA-11M undocked from the Rassvet module at 6:36 p.m. EDT with a 4 minute, 41 second deorbit burn taking place at 9:04 p.m. EDT, slowing the spacecraft for its decent and landing. The Expedition 39 crew wrapped up a 188-day mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) where they completed 3,008 orbits of the Earth and traveled over 79 million miles since their launch last November.

The Expedition 39 crew focused on several key areas of human health research and management during their mission, including experiments with a human immune system activation and suppression study along with a protein crystal growth research study to observe the proteins responsible for neuro-degenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease. Also, the crew installed a new plant growth chamber, known as VEG-01, in hopes of one day expanding in-orbit food production.

In addition to many science experiments, the crew arrived at the ISS carrying the Olympic Torch that would eventually be used to light the flame at Fisht Stadium, signaling the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Soyuz TMA-11M undocking from the International Space Station. Photo Credit; NASA

Soyuz TMA-11M undocking from the International Space Station. Photo Credit; NASA

The crew also welcomed three cargo spacecrafts during their time on the space station. First, a Russian ISS Progress cargo vehicle bringing tons of supplies, and then a different Progress craft performed tests on an upgraded automated rendezvous system. Next, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft arrived in January, marking their first resupply mission. Then in April, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched its Dragon spacecraft for the SpaceX-3 resupply mission. Both Cygnus and Dragon were filled with cargo and science experiments. This was Orbital’s first of eight cargo missions to the ISS and the third of at least twelve scheduled SpaceX resupply missions under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract through 2016.

The ISS is not only an orbiting research lab, but also serves as a test facility for new technologies. The arrival of the Dragon capsule brought new climbing legs for NASA’s humanoid robot, Robonaut 2 (R2). In the coming months, R2 will take its first steps after its legs are attached and will assist the astronauts with routine, dirty, and even potentially dangerous tasks. Later this year, R2 will be receiving more upgrades as well as a battery backpack. Using the station’s robotic arm, ground controllers installed a new high-definition Earth-viewing camera stream (HDEV) outside of the Columbus lab. HDEV steams live video of Earth online and is composed of four commercially available HD cameras.

Expedition 39 marks the first mission where the crew performed visiting vehicle operations on the same day as a scheduled extra-vehicular activity (EVA ). NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson performed a spacewalk to replace a failed Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM). This was the final of three spacewalks performed by Mastracchio during the mission.

Expedition 39 crew resting after being extracted from their Soyuz capsule. Photo Credit: NASA TV

Expedition 39 crew resting after being extracted from their Soyuz capsule. Photo Credit: NASA TV

Mastracchio and Wakata both completed their fourth space station mission with Mastracchio having logged 228 days in space and Wakate 348 days. Tyurin has logged 532 days in space over three flights, marking him as 13th on the all-time endurance list.

In a ceremony on May 12th, Wakata officially handed over the reigns to Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson. “Swanny” as his crew member call him and Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skyortsov of Roscosmos will be a three-man crew until the arrival of NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Roscosmos astronaut Maxim Suraev and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst later this month. During the ceremony Swanny had the following to say about Wakata:

“Your leadership was fantastic. You set an example that will be hard to match. Your diligence, endless energy and your desire to make the station as beat as it could possibly be was just a pleasure to watch. I’m very proud to have been part of your crew.”

The next trio of astronauts is set to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodome in Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz TMA-13M on May 28, 2014.

Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin waved their final goodbyes to fellow Expedition 40 crew mates and strapped into the Soyuz around 3:15 p.m. EDT and began a series of tests prior to undocking at 6:36 p.m. EDT (GMT -4). Mikhail Tyurin commanded the Soyuz with Mastracchio sitting to his left in vehicle and Wakata to his right.

Expedition 39 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA is helped out of the Soyuz capsule shortly after landing. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Expedition 39 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA is helped out of the Soyuz capsule shortly after landing. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

After ensuring the craft was an appropriate distance from the station, Tyurin monitored an automated deorbit burn lasting approximately four minutes and 41 seconds and slowing the spacecraft. Approximately half an hour later, the spacecraft separated into its three constituent parts, sending the crew module on its way to land.

In addition to the three crew members, some research samples and other cargo was returned to Earth on the Soyuz. The ongoing microbiome experiment focuses on the impact of space travel on the body’s immune system as well as on any microbes living in/on the human body. Crew and station samples were taken periodically and logged. The results of this study may have benefits to many people including those who live and work in extreme environments here on Earth as well as help with early disease detection, and immune system deficiencies.

As is Russian tradition, all three were carried from the Soyuz to recliners where they were able to relax, undergo preliminary medical checks as well as talk to friends and family via satellite phone. After further medical testing, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata will board a NASA jet to take them back to Houston and Mikhail Tyurin will board a plane back to Star City, Russia.


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