NASA teams deploy to Kazakhstan for Soyuz landing
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: March 7, 2014
As diplomatic tensions flare over Russia's armed incursion into Ukraine, preparations for Monday's landing of two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut continue unabated as recovery crews converge on the Kazakhstan touchdown zone.
The NASA team joins the Russian-led recovery crew, which consists of a fleet of helicopters, fixed-wing surveillance aircraft, and all-terrain ground vehicles to quickly reach the Soyuz capsule after it parachutes to Earth.
Speaking in a conference call with reporters this week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the space station program has been resilient to international crises since Russian formally joined the effort in 1993.
"I think people lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises," Bolden said. "I don't think it's an insignificant fact that we are starting to see a number of people with the idea that the International Space Station be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It's not trivial."
Kotov will be accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, who are in the final weekend of a 166-day mission aboard the International Space Station.
Part of the space station's Expedition 37 and 38 crews, Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Hopkins presided over the arrivals and departures of Russian Progress resupply ships, Japanese and European cargo freighters, and two commercial logistics missions flown by Orbital Sciences Corp.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy teamed up for three spacewalks, including a Nov. 9 excursion with the Olympic torch in a high-flying photo opportunity ahead of Russia's Sochi games.
Hopkins logged two spacewalks with NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio in December to replace a balky ammonia coolant pump on the space station's truss backbone.
In the last few days, the three-man crew completed fit checks with their Sokol re-entry spacesuits and a descent drill to practice procedures for the Soyuz spacecraft's undocking and landing.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy also tested the Soyuz spacecraft's motion control and navigation systems Friday.
Undocking is set for 0002 GMT Tuesday (8:02 p.m. EDT), followed by a burn of the Soyuz rocket thrusters at 0230 GMT (10:30 p.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 re-entry, at 0258 GMT (10:58 p.m. EDT).
Touchdown southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan is scheduled for 0324 GMT (11:24 p.m. EDT), or 9:24 a.m. Tuesday at the landing site.
Astronaut Koichi Wakata will take over command of the space station from Kotov, becoming the first Japanese astronaut to lead a crew aboard the complex.
Wakata, Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, set for return to Earth in mid-May, will be joined by three fresh residents March 25 to boost the station's crew complement back to six.
Veteran shuttle astronaut Steven Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev will begin another six-month rotation on the space station.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.