Expedition 40 trio land safely in Kazakhstan
The three members of the Expedition 40 crew, a mixture of a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, ended their five-and-a-half month stay on the International Space Station (ISS ) yesterday. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, along with Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev touched down on the Kazakh steppes at 10:23 p.m. EDT (8:23 a.m. Thursday local time). The trio’s fiery descent concluded a 169-day stay aboard the orbiting laboratory which saw numerous spacecraft arrivals and departures, scientific experiments, international cooperation in the face of turmoil back on terra firma and even an extra vehicular activity (EVA) or two.
Artemyev, Skvortsov and Swanson sealed the hatch on their Soyuz spacecraft at 3:35 p.m. EDT (1935 GMT) and departed the space station at approximately 7:01 p.m. EDT (2301 GMT) last (Wednesday) evening. Their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft undocked from the station’s Poisk module and drifted out into the black. After they had departed an imaginary “no-fly” zone that encapsulates the station, the crew conducted two orbits of Earth and then prepared for the main event. Soyuz’s braking rockets were then activated, placing the crew on a path to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.
Less than one hour later, under parachute, the Expedition 40 crew touched down just southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan. Although they were alone during the tumultuous ride home, things changed upon touching down.
A small army of Russian and U.S. recovery personnel, who had been waiting at the periphery of the landing zone, swooped in to help the crew out of the Soyuz’s confines. This was hampered by their stay on the ISS, which saw their physical condition deteriorate due to the effects of the microgravity environment.
They lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone, also in Kazakhstan, on March 25. They did not have an easy go of things on ascent however.
The Russian Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos, has developed a method in which the Soyuz spacecraft travels to the station in about six hours. This did not occur during Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev’s flight. The four-orbit expedited route, did not go off as planned and the three crew members were forced to carry out the older (and slower) method of traveling to the station – which took two days to complete.
Swanson relinquished command of the ISS to Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev on Tuesday, September 9. Suraev, along with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman will now start Expedition 41. The trio will be joined by fellow Expedition 41 crew members Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova (the first female Russian cosmonaut to travel to the orbiting outpost) as well as NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore on Sept. 25.
During his time on ISS, Swanson traveled outside of the station, accompanied by Expedition 39’s Rick Mastracchio, to fix a faulty control system. No spacewalk slouches themselves, Artemyev and Skvortsov conducted two EVAs. One of the routine activities for this crew – was the unloading of cargo and crew supplies from the Russian Progress, ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle and the U.S. Dragon and Cygnus cargo vessels that ventured to the station.
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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.