Monday, November 11, 2013

Expedition 38 Begins with Torch return to Earth

Change of Command. Fyodor Yurchikhn (L) shakes hands with Oleg Kotov (R). NASA TV.

The command crew of Expedition 37 has left the station. In a Change of Command Ceremony on Sunday, Fyodor Yurchikhini handed over responsibility of the ISS to new Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov, who just on Saturday completed the 5-hour EVA including the Olympic Torch ceremony. Following the command ceremony, the Expedition 37 crew entered their Soyuz spacecraft and closed hatches about 3 pm. EST. 

TMA-09M backs away from the ISS.

At about 6:30 the spacecraft undocked and maneuvered for a re-entry back to Earth.  The flight plan worked flawlessly and the crew separated the return module from the rest of the spacecraft (which would burn up in re-entry). A little more than three hours after undocking, the capsule was spotted with parachute open coming in for a landing.

Landing in Kazakhstan.

As usual the Soyuz return capsule landed after firing its last thrusters, slowing descent for a safe but jarring bump onto Kazakhstan soil. The recovery team was landed by helicopter who helped the Expedition 37 crewmembers out of the capsule and onto chairs for their first taste of gravity in over 166 days in zero-G.

The Torch is Back On Earth!
Crew of Expedition 37: Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, Lucca Parmitano.

Although not discussed much in the media, there was another piece of equipment brought back to Earth, whcih engineers very much wanted to get their hands on. That would be part of the space EVA suit that malfunctioned, leaking water into the suit and nearly drowning Lucca Parmitano. Engineers will analyze the equipment and seek to ensure this type of accident does not happen again. No doubt astronaut Parmitano is now VERY glad to be back on Earth.

Olympic Torch part of ISS History

The new Olympic Torch . TMA-11M crew. NASA Credit.
Expedition 38 Crewmembers (L-R): FLight Engineer Koichi Wakata (Japan), Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin (Russia), Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio (USA).

In preparation for the Summer Olympic games of 2014, to be held in Russia, The Russian SPace Agency has sent a famous piece of equipment into space. The Olympic Torch, which will ignite the fires at the Games in 2014, accompanied the crew of Soyuz TMA-11M to the ISS for a magic moment.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov holds up the Olympic Torch during Saturday's Spacewalk.

On Saturday, cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy performed a 5-hour EVA to complete some maintenance items outside the stage. They also took the Olympic Torch outside into space for a brief ceremony outside the Russian-built Pirs module. Once completed, they placed the torch back into the airlock and began to work on the maintenance tasks. The 8th spacewalk of the year, this was the 4th EVA for Kotov and the first for Ryazanskiy. It was the 178th EVA performed on the station.

After completion of the spacewalk, the torch was placed in the Soyuz TMA-09M which would bring the torch back to Earth on the weekend.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Big Crew on ISS

Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur spaceport. Credit: RiaNovosti.

The ISS just got a little crowded. There are now 9 astronauts and cosmonauts on the station, pending the departure of the Expedition 37 crew. Last night the Russian Soyuz rocket blasted spacecraft TMA-11M into a short trajectory orbit to rendezvous with the ISS. After a six hour journey, the Soyuz docked with the station and shortly after the crew joined the team on the station.

The new crew poses with the old crew. NASA TV.

The last time there were nine persons on the station was back in October of 2009. That is, without a Space Shuttle docked somewhere. In the photo above are posed the three groups of astronauts linking Expedition 36 to Expedition 38. Sometimes that gets confusing. In the front row are flight engineers Mikhail Tyurin (C), Koichi Wakata (L) and Rick Mastraccio (R), just arriving from Earth. They will be the second shift of the New Expedition 38. In the gray flight suits are Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins, and Sergey Ryazanskiy. They were the second half of Expedition 37 and become the lead team for Expedition 38. Behind them is the second half of Expedition 36, which became the lead team for Expedition 37: Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Luca Parmitano. They are scheduled to leave the station on Sunday to return home to Earth in Soyuz TMA-09M.

Easy... easy... a little to the left... now forward... Soyuz TMA-11M prepares to dock early Thursday morning at the Russian Rassvet docking module. NASA TV.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov will officially begin command of Expedition 38 on Sunday when the TMA-09M undocks from the ISS. Of the new expedition crew, only Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mike Hopkins are on their first flights. Astronaut Koichi Wakata (Japan) has been on shuttle flights and a previous stay on board the ISS. COming up this week on Friday is a news conference to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the beginning of construction for ISS. On Saturday Kotov and Ryazanskiy will perform an EVA to take the Olympic Torch (just brought up) outside the station. This torch will return to Earth with the TMA-09M flight and will be used in the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Russia in 2014.