Soyuz capsule makes 'ballistic' descent to Earth
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 21, 2007
The Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft landed in Kazakhstan today, bringing outgoing space station commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, flight engineer Oleg Kotov and Malaysia's first man in space, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, safely back to Earth after a steeper-than-usual descent that left the ship well short of its intended landing site.
The spacecraft undocked from the aft port of the Russian Zvezda command module around 3:14 a.m. EDT. Yurchikhin fired the capsule's braking rockets for four minutes beginning at 5:47 a.m. to begin the hourlong descent. At 6:14 a.m., the craft reached the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of 400,000 feet.
Plunging back to Earth from west to east over central Kazakhstan, the flight plan called for a landing near the town of Arkalyk. But for reasons yet to be explained, the Soyuz flew a steeper-than-planned trajectory and landed short of the intended touchdown point, subjecting the crew to higher-than-normal braking forces. It was the first "ballistic" re-entry since the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft returned on May 3, 2003, with the space station's sixth full time crew.
Landing some 211 miles west of Arkalyk, there was no live television coverage of the landing. But NASA commentator Rob Navias, monitoring the re-entry from the Johnson Space Center's mission control in Houston, said Russian recovery forces aboard search aircraft spotted the capsule as it descended under its main parachutes at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Russian flight controllers said recovery crews contacted the cosmonauts during the final moments of the descent and were told the crew was in good shape.
Touchdown occurred a few minutes later, around 6:36 a.m., one minute earlier than planned.
"It's on the ground and five minutes ago a helicopter landed right next to it," a Russian flight controller radioed the space station crew in orbit. "The guys are being extracted from the descent module and they're feeling fine."
Yurchikhin, Kotov and U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi were launched to the international space station last April. Yurchikhin and Kotov were replaced by Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first woman to command the lab complex, and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Whitson, Malenchenko and Shukor were launched Oct. 10 aboard the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft.
"The crew is safe on the ground," Navias reported. "It landed almost in an upright position, slightly canted, we are told, one helicopter on the ground, others soon to arrive to continue the process of beginning to safe the vehilcle and extract the crew."
By 6:55 a.m., all three crew members were reported out of the capsule.