Soyuz brings international crew back to Earth
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 2, 2010
The Soyuz TMA-17 crew capsule, carrying outgoing space station commander Oleg Kotov, Timothy Creamer and Soichi Noguchi, settled to a safe parachute-and-rocket-assisted landing in Kazakhstan Tuesday after a descent from the International Space Station.
Television views from the landing site showed all three crew members, still wearing their pressure suits, seated in reclining chairs under blankets, smiling and appearing relaxed as medical officers checked their vital signs. All three enjoyed fresh apples, smiling and waving to supporters.
"It was an on-target landing," NASA spokeman Rob Navias said from the landing site. "This is a beautiful spring day. ... This crew, after 163 days in space, is doing just great."
The return to Earth appeared to go smoothly, starting with the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft's undocking from the aft port of the Zvezda command module at 8:04 p.m. as the two spacecraft were sailing 215 miles above eastern Mongolia.
"No issues, a smooth departure," someone radioed as the Soyuz backed away from the space station. A few moments later, a translator passed along someone saying "Bye bye, station. ... A beautiful view."
"I forgot something. Can we go back?" Creamer joked after a small rocket firing to leave the area.
Kotov then monitored a four-minute 21-second deorbit rocket firing starting at 10:34 p.m. that slowed the craft by about 258 mph to drop it out of orbit.
Just before falling into the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of about 62 miles, the three modules making up the Soyuz TMA-17 separated as planned. The crew, strapped into the central descent module, fell into the atmosphere around 11:02 p.m. and followed the planned trajectory to the landing site, tipping over on its side after touchdown.
After medical checks, Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi were to be flown to Karaganda where they planned to split up. Kotov was expected to head for Moscow and the cosmonaut training center at Star City while Creamer and Noguchi planned to board a NASA jet for a direct flight back to the United States. They are expected to arrive in Houston late Wednesday.
Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 20, 2009, docking two days later and joining Expedition 22 commander Jeffrey Williams and Maxim Suraev.
Kotov took over as commander of Expedition 23 with the departure of Williams and Suraev on March 18 and the crew expanded to six with the arrival of Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson on April 4.
During a change-of-commander ceremony Monday, Kotov turned over the station to Skvortsov, the Expedition 24 commander.
Kotov, speaking in English, offered his thanks "to everyone who support us in our work, who provide us with our success, who trained us."
"It's time. It's time to give up commanding of the station," he said. "It was really a success mission for us, and I really appreciate all my crew members who help me. ... I would like to wish all the best (to the) crew that stay here for their mission. It's time. Alexander, I give up command of this station."
"I am proud to accept command of International Space Station from you," Skvortsov said in English. "I was glad to work with crew members on space station in this time and I hope that we will continue with good tradition ... and I think everything will be OK. We'll see in future good work. Tomorrow, our space veterans will depart to Earth, very successful, and they will have good landing."
Creamer told reporters last month that he was looking forward to seeing his family again and enjoying the benefits of gravity.
"We've been up here five-ish months and right now, you kind of go, "I'm finally getting the hang of this,'" he said. "It's sad to be departing that operational world that I so enjoy and love, as well as just the camaraderie we share with our crewmates.
"What I'm looking forward to, of course, is getting back together with family and friends," he said. "Specifically, though, I'd really like to drink something not through a straw and have the food stay on the plate for a change."
Noguchi, Japan's second long-duration space station astronaut, took advantage of the lab's Ku-band internet access to post a stream of pictures on the web during his stay in space, showing targets of interest around the world. Asked about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Noguchi said "it's kind of sad to see the beautiful sea kind of tinted."
"These days, the stain kind of spreads around to the south," he said. "We're just hoping for a quick recovery."
As for his frequent Twitter use, Noguchi passed along "kudos to the engineers who made it possible. And also my personal thanks to me crewmate, T.J. Creamer, who worked very hard to make it happen. I was just a user, he's actually the background engineer to make it possible."
"My message to you guys is look, the Earth is beautiful and I just want to share the pictures," he said. "I'm not the best photographer, there are a lot of people who take a better picture, but I like to just share how a regular person comes up to the space station and sees this beautiful view and just want to share the view. So I'm very happy to have a chance to share the photographs with you guys."
Skvortsov, Kornienko and Caldwell Dyson will have the space station to themselves until June 17 when Fyodor Yurchikhin, Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker arrive aboard the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft, which is scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 15.