HOUSTON — Three U.S. and Russian astronauts ended a 159-day mission to the International Space Station early March 16 as their Soyuz TMA-0M1/24S spacecraft parachuted safely into wintry Kazakhstan.
Expedition 26 crewmembers Scott Kelly ofand cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka were greeted by helicopter search-and-rescue crews, minutes after landing northeast of Arkalyk at 3:54 a.m. EDT, or 1:54 p.m. local time.
All three appeared to be in good shape as they were pulled from their descent module, which had rolled onto its side.
The Russian and U.S. recovery team, encountering ankle-deep snow, frigid temperatures and high winds, worked briskly to place the fliers in all-terrain vehicles and then helicopters for a flight to Kustanai.
After brief medical checks, the astronauts appeared to be in good shape, according to Rob Navias, aspokesman who was with the recovery team. “This is Arctic conditions, at best,” Navias told NASA TV. “No doubt about that.”
The expedition vaulted Kaleri into second place for time spent in space. His 770 days over five long-duration flights are second only to Sergei Krikalev, a fellow cosmonaut, who logged 803 days over six missions.
From Kustanai, Kaleri and Skripochka were to depart for Star City, Russia, and Kelly for Houston aboard a NASA aircraft.
They undocked from the space station on March 16 at 12:27 a.m. EDT. The descent marked a first for a Soyuz with the OM1 upgrades that included digital cockpit displays, more powerful flight computers and lighter avionics.
In early February, Kaleri and Moscow’s Mission Control carried out a series of hardware and software changes to address problems with the capsule’s new Neptune roll and roll-rate displays during the Oct. 7 ascent.
After undocking, the Soyuz crew separated to 150 ft. for a docking system test and then to 500 ft. for tests of the newly installed analog angular speed sensors to verify roll and roll-rate displays during the descent.
Aboard the station, the departure marked the start of Expedition 27, as command shifted from Kelly to Russian Dmitry Kondratyev. The new commander, NASA’s Catherine Coleman and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Napoli arrived in mid-December for a six-month stay.
They are scheduled to be joined by NASA astronaut Ron Garan and cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev.
Earlier this week,announced a delay in the March 30 launching of their Soyuz-21/26S spacecraft to complete the troubleshooting of a condenser failure in the capsule’s Kvant-V communications system.