U.S., Japanese and Russian astronauts dropped through a wintry overcast sky for a rare night Soyuz landing in northern Kazakhstan early Nov. 19, bringing their 127-day mission to the International Space Station to a successful conclusion.
The TMA-05M spacecraft, commanded by Yuri Malenchenko and carrying Sunita Williams, of, and Akihiko Hoshide, of the , touched down under parachute northeast of Arkalyk at 7:56 a.m., local time, or about an hour before sunrise. The landing coincided with Nov. 18 at 8:56 p.m. EST.
During their four-month tour of duty, the three station crewmembers tended or participated in more than 150 science experiments and technology demonstrations.
Williams, who served as the commander, and Hoshide teamed for three spacewalks to address a coolant leak on the station’s oldest solar power module and replace a deteriorating main bus switching unit. Malenchenko joined previous station crewmember Gennady Padalka for a spacewalk that helped to prepare the Russian segment for the arrival of a new multipurpose science module in 2014.
The Soyuz descent, which began with an undocking from the Rassvet module at 8:56 p.m. EST, went smoothly with the exception of a brief lag in the drogue and main parachute deployment, which sent the capsule slightly off course along its southwest to northeast track.
The night landing was the first for a Soyuz crew since April 2006 and only the fourth in the 12 years the orbiting science lab has been staffed. The predawn landing was approved by the U.S.-led station mission management team in response to GPS upgrades made to the capsule’s navigation systems.
Russian helicopter-borne recovery forces responded promptly to the capsule’s slight drift off course, landing in several inches of freshly fallen snow to assist the astronauts from their spacecraft. Temperatures calculated with the wind chill hovered just above 0F.
“I’m feeling great,” Williams toldTV after the landing. “But coming back from space, I feel a little woozy.”
Malenchenko, Williams and Hoshide were flown in individual helicopters to Kostanay in Central Kazakhstan. There, Williams and Hoshide boarded a NASA jet for Houston, home to NASA’s. Malenchenko flew to Star City, Russia. Each will undergo several weeks of physical conditioning to overcome the muscle and bone losses experienced during their lengthy exposure to weightlessness.
With the undocking, command of the station transitioned from Williams to Kevin Ford, also of NASA.
Ford and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin expect to be joined on Dec. 21 by a new Soyuz crew, Russian Roman Romanenko, NASA’s Tom Marshburn and Chis Hadfield, of the Canadian Space Agency.