Astronaut, cosmonauts leave ISS on way home to Earth
With Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitzskiy at the controls, the bug-shaped Soyuz pushed off from the frontier outpost at 7:43 p.m. EDT as the spacecraft flew 254 miles above northeastern Mongolia. Also onboard: U.S. astronaut Kevin Ford and cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin.
Fog and frozen rain prevented a planned landing north of the town of Arkalyk on Thursday. But a cold front exited the area and the weather conditions for at 11:05 p.m. EDT tonight are ideal.
“What a difference and day makes,” NASA mission commentator Rob Navias said.
Mostly clear skies are forecast on the central steppes of Kazakhstan, and winds are expected to be light – about seven miles per hour. Temperatures will be extremely cold, but acceptable: 15 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of four degrees Fahrenheit.
The Soyuz will be about 7.5 miles away from the station at 10:13 p.m. EDT when Novitzskiy executes a four-minute, 44-second retrograde thruster firing that will slow the spacecraft enough to drop it out of orbit.
The landing is scheduled at 9:05 a.m. Saturday local time in Kazakhstan, or about one-hour and 23 minutes after sunrise there.
Outgoing station skipper Ford and his two cosmonaut colleagues blasted off at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 23. They arrived at the space station on Oct. 25.
They lived and worked aboard the complex for 142 days, and chalked up 144 days in space on the 34th expedition to the station, which has been continuously staffed since a first crew boarded in November 2000.
Still onboard the station: Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the station, U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn and second-generation cosmonaut Roman Romanenko. His father, Yuri Romanenko, tallied 430 days in space during his career as a cosmonaut.
An American and two Russians are scheduled to blast off for the station on March 28, making the first single-day trip to the complex. Normally it takes two days to reach the outpost, but Russian flight controllers have developed new trajectories that will make single-day trips a reality.
The crew coming up includes U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy, veteran cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, and first-time space flier Alexander Misurkin.
Cassidy, who served as a mission specialist on a 2009 shuttle mission to the station, is only the second former Navy SEAL to fly in space. The first, William Shepherd, was the commander of the first expedition to the international outpost.