Friday, November 26, 2010

Astronauts return for Thanksgiving

Doug Wheelock knows what's important.

The last three astronauts of Expedition 25 have landed in Kazakhstan at about 9:46 p.m. MST Thursday night. These brave explorers have finished a 5-month stay on the ISS. So naturally they would be really feeling the effects of Earth's gravity when they arrived. The Russians take good care of the crew, helping them out of the capsule and moving them about on specially designed couches which can be carried around from the capsule to the medical tents to the helicopters.

Please place your trays in the upright position...

The Soyuz capsule is designed to land on solid ground, unlike previous pre-shuttle American craft which were designed for water landings. It is very likely that the next capsules designed for NASA will also be designed for landing on solid ground. Can't be sure yet though, there are several designs under development and nothing is certain yet.

On a good note for commercial development, Space X (builder of the Falcon 9 rocket) has received a permit for de-orbit operations. This is a first for commercial space activities. Space X will be preparing to launch their Dragon cargo capsule in about a month, after the shuttle Discovery makes its last voyage to the ISS. Dragon hopes to build a human-rated spacecraft based on the Dragon design. Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace are also building a competitive design, as is Lockheed. I hope all three have success.

Meanwhile, back in space, the ISS Expedition 26 officially started at the moment that the Expedition 25 crew left the station in the Soyuz capsule. Expedition 26 is commanded by American astronaut Scott Kelly with Russian flight engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.

L-R: Shannon Walker, Doug Wheelock, Fyodor Yurchikhin

The Americans of the recently returned crew described their landing as pretty exciting "... an E-ticket ride" and "...a series of explosions followed by a crash." Nothing to worry about though, that's exactly how the Soyuz lands. They return having completed the first decade of permanent manned operations on the ISS. Whether we continue another 10 years of continual operations is a question to which Americans and Russians will have to seriously dedicate themselves.

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