1410 GMT (10:10 a.m. EDT)
NASA astronaut Terry Virts, 47, is now out of the Soyuz spacecraft. Virts's logbook now reads 213 days in space on two missions. He flew as a pilot on the shuttle Endeavour in 2010 before commanding the Expedition 43 crew on the space station.
1407 GMT (10:07 a.m. EDT)
European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who rode home in the Soyuz capsule's right seat, is now out of the spacecraft. Cristoforetti, 38, broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. She is a former pilot in the Italian Air Force.
1402 GMT (10:02 a.m. EDT)
Veteran Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, the Soyuz commander, is first to exit the Soyuz spacecraft. Shkaplerov, 43, has now logged 365 days in space on two spaceflights.
1359 GMT (9:59 a.m. EDT)
Video from the landing site shows the Soyuz spacecraft landed upright. Ground crews are installing a stand around the bell-shaped capsule to assist in extracting the three-man crew.
The recovery team arrived aboard a convoy of Russian helicopters that landed around the spacecraft to begin assisting the crew out of the capsule.
1344 GMT (9:44 a.m. EDT)
TOUCHDOWN! The Soyuz TMA-15M capsule has landed in Kazakhstan, capping the 199-day voyage of Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti to the International Space Station on Expeditions 42 and 43, a mission that traveled more than 84 million miles and nearly 3,200 orbits of the planet.
1340 GMT (9:40 a.m. EDT)
At an altitude of about 12 meters, cockpit displays will tell the cosmonauts to prepare for the soft landing engine firing. Just one meter above the surface, and just seconds before touchdown, the six solid propellant engines are fired in a final braking maneuver, enabling the Soyuz to land to complete its mission, settling down at a velocity of about 1.5 meters per second (3.35 mph).
1338 GMT (9:38 a.m. EDT)
The recovery team has made audio contact with the Soyuz crew.
1333 GMT (9:33 a.m. EDT)
Live video from the landing zone shows the Soyuz descent module suspended under its orange and white main parachute. There appear to be no issues with the descent.
At an altitude of five kilometers, the module's heat shield is jettisoned. This is followed by the termination of the aerodynamic spin cycle and the dumping of any residual propellant from the Soyuz. Computers also will arm the module's seat shock absorbers in preparation for landing.
With the jettisoning of the capsule's heat shield, the Soyuz altimeter is exposed to the surface of the Earth. Using a reflector system, signals are bounced to the ground from the Soyuz and reflected back, providing the capsule's computers updated information on altitude and rate of descent.
1330 GMT (9:30 a.m. EDT)
Once the drogue chute is jettisoned, the main parachute is deployed. It is connected to the Descent Module by two harnesses, covers an area of about 1,000 square meters and slows descent to 7.2 meters/second.
Initially, the Descent Module will hang underneath the main parachute at a 30-degree angle with respect to the horizon for aerodynamic stability, but the bottommost harness will be severed a few minutes before landing, allowing the Descent Module to hang vertically through touchdown.
1329 GMT (9:29 a.m. EDT)
Onboard computers should be starting a commanded sequence for deployment of the capsule's parachutes at an altitude of about 10 kilometers. Two "pilot" parachutes are unfurled first, extracting a 24-square-meter drogue parachute. Within 16 seconds, the craft's fall will slow from 230 meters per second to about 80 m/s.
The parachute deployment creates a gentle spin for the Soyuz as it dangles underneath the drogue chute, assisting in the capsule's stability in the final minutes before touchdown.
1327 GMT (9:27 a.m. EDT)
The crew experiences the period of maximum g-forces at this point during entry.
1323 GMT (9:23 a.m. EDT)
Twenty minutes to landing. The Soyuz is making its fiery plunge into the atmosphere after 199 days in orbit.
1321 GMT (9:21 a.m. EDT)
Entry Interface. The Soyuz is now hitting the upper fringes of the atmosphere at an altitude of 400,000 feet, flying at an angle of 1.35 degrees. The Expedition 43 crew will soon begin to feel the first tugs of Earth's gravity after nearly seven months in space.
The entry guidance by the spacecraft's onboard software package is scheduled to start in a few minutes.
1319 GMT (9:19 a.m. EDT)
Module separation has occurred, Mission Control reports.
The three segments of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft have jettisoned apart, allowing the crew-carrying Descent Module to safely ferry the three crew members back to Earth. The no-longer-needed Orbital Module and Instrumentation/Propulsion Module are designed to burn up in the atmosphere.
1316 GMT (9:16 a.m. EDT)
The Soyuz computers have been loaded with and enabled the commands to perform the pyrotechnic separation of the modules.
1313 GMT (9:13 a.m. EDT)
Time to touchdown is now 30 minutes.
In about three minutes at an altitude of 87 miles, just above the first traces of the Earth's atmosphere, computers will command the separation of the three modules that comprise the Soyuz vehicle. With the crew strapped in to the Descent Module, the forward Orbital Module containing the docking mechanism and rendezvous antennas and the rear Instrumentation/Propulsion Module, which houses the engines and avionics, will pyrotechnically separate and burn up in the atmosphere.
The Descent Module's computers will orient the capsule with its ablative heat shield pointing forward to repel the buildup of heat as it plunges into the atmosphere. Entry interface at the upper fringes of the atmosphere, when the capsule is about 400,000 feet above the Earth, happens about three minutes after module separation.
1308 GMT (9:08 a.m. EDT)
The Soyuz flight path is crossing Africa now as the spacecraft falls back toward the atmosphere. The crew members are expected to close their helmets at this time.
1304 GMT (9:04 a.m. EDT)
The Soyuz is aiming for a landing site at 47.19 degrees north latitude and 69.33 east longitude. Landing occurs 1 hour, 35 minutes before sunset in Kazakhstan.
Ground controllers have lost voice communications with the Soyuz crew, but this is an expected phenomenon. Intermittent communications with the Soyuz is expected through the rest of the descent.
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1256 GMT (8:56 a.m. EDT)
DEORBIT BURN COMPLETE! The Soyuz has performed its braking maneuver, committing the craft for entry into the atmosphere. Touchdown is about 47 minutes away.
1251 GMT (8:51 a.m. EDT)
DEORBIT BURN IGNITION! Thrusters on the Russian Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft are firing to brake from orbit. This deorbit burn is expected to last four minutes and 40 seconds to put the capsule on a course for the trip back to Earth, slowing the vehicle by about 286 mph.
1243 GMT (8:43 a.m. EDT)
Now one hour to touchdown.
1230 GMT (8:30 a.m. EDT)
Everything is on track for the landing of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at 9:43 a.m. EDT (1343 GMT), with the start of the capsule's deorbit burn expected at 8:51 a.m. EDT (1251 GMT).
The deorbit burn is programmed to last four minute and 40 seconds to slow the spacecraft's velocity by 286 mph, enough for the Soyuz to drop in altitude and be captured by Earth's atmosphere for re-entry.
Just before it falls into the atmosphere, the Soyuz spacecraft's three modules will separate at 9:18 a.m. EDT (1318 GMT). The orbital habitation and service modules will burn up during re-entry, while the landing section containing Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts is protected by a heat shield.
Altitude of the Soyuz spacecraft at module separation will be about 86 miles, or just shy of 140 kilometers.
The Soyuz spacecraft will reach the top of the discernable atmosphere at 9:20 a.m. EDT (1320 GMT). The crew members will experience maximum g-forces at 9:26 a.m. EDT (1326 GMT).
The Soyuz will issue the command to open parachutes at 9:28 a.m. EDT (1328 GMT), beginning a nearly 15-minute descent to the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan.
A set of so-called "soft landing rockets" will fire just above the ground to further cushion the impact of landing.
1026 GMT (6:26 a.m. EDT)
Two separation firings by the Soyuz's thrusters have been completed to accelerate the spacecraft's departure from the International Space Station. The capsule will be nearly 8 miles away when it performs the deorbit burn today at 8:51 a.m. EDT (1251 GMT). Touchdown is scheduled for 9:43 a.m. EDT (1343 GMT).
The undocking occurred as the spacecraft flew 261 miles over Mongolia.
1020 GMT (6:20 a.m. EDT)
UNDOCKING. The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft has separated from the space station after 199 days there, setting the stage for today's return to Earth with Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov, Italian flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti and outgoing space station commander Terry Virts.
1019 GMT (6:19 a.m. EDT.)
The undocking command has been issued. Hooks and latches holding the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft and the station's Rassvet module tightly together are being opened now.
1005 GMT (6:05 a.m. EDT)
The homeward-bound crew has worked together for the past couple of hours to power up the Soyuz, activate the craft's systems, remove docking clamps, depressurize the vestibule between the capsule and station, and don their Sokol spacesuits. Undocking is set for 6:20 a.m. EDT (1020 GMT).
0615 GMT (2:15 a.m. EDT)
The crew has boarded the Soyuz spacecraft for this evening's journey from the International Space Station to the landing site in Kazakhstan. The crew closed the hatchway between the station and capsule at 2:05 a.m. EDT.
Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti will put on their Sokol launch and entry spacesuits over the next few hours before undocking of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at 6:20 a.m. EDT (1020 GMT). Landing is scheduled for 9:43 a.m. EDT (1343 GMT).
0001 GMT (8:01 p.m. EDT Wed.)
The Expedition 44 crew formally takes over the space station with the undocking of outgoing commander Terry Virts, Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov and flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti on Thursday.
Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka will assume command of the complex from Virts.
The departing crew will float into the Soyuz TMA-15M space capsule early Thursday and close hatches between the spacecraft and the space station's Rassvet module at 0655 GMT (2:55 a.m. EDT).
The crew will buckle into their custom-molded consoles -- with Shkaplerov manning the center seat as commander, Cristoforetti in the left seat as board engineer, and Virts in the right seat.
Undocking is set for 1020 GMT (6:20 a.m. EDT), followed by a burn of the Soyuz rocket thrusters at 1251 GMT (8:51 a.m. EDT) to slow the craft's velocity enough to fall back into the atmosphere.
The spacecraft's propulsion and orbital habitation modules will jettison from the landing section, where the three-man crew will be positioned for the computer-controlled re-entry, at 1318 GMT (9:18 a.m. EDT).
The parachute-assisted touchdown on the steppe Kazakhstan is scheduled for 1343 GMT (9:43 a.m. EDT), or 7:43 p.m. Thursday at the landing site.
Padalka and his crewmates -- Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko -- will be joined by three fresh crew mates in late July, when Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese flight engineer Kimiya Yui launch to the space station.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10, 2015
Three space station crew members packed up for a fiery return to Earth Thursday, wrapping up a nearly 200-day mission that was extended one month at the last minute because of a Russian rocket failure in April that threw a wrench into the lab’s crew rotation schedule.
Read our preview story.