Saturday, June 18, 2016

Space Station Departures and Change of Command

Change of Command Ceremony: Front (L-R): Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake. Back Row (L-R): Williams, Ovchinin, and Skripochka. Credit NASA TV.

The last two weeks have seen a couple of farewells. Most recently, on Friday morning June 17, Commander Tim Kopra of Expedition 47 turned over command of the International Space Station to astronaut Jeff Williams. Then the Expedition 47 crew prepared to board and undock from the station.

Soyuz TMA-19M docked at the Russian Rassvet module.

In the returning Soyuz spacecraft TMA-19M, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko assumed spacecraft command with astronauts Peake and Kopra acting as flight engineers. The three crew have been on the ISS for 186 days. For astronaut Tim Peake, it marks the end of a significant mission as he has been the first British Astronaut with the European Space Agency to stay aboard the station.

The Soyuz undocks from the Rassvet module.

The hatch was closed at 10:34 p.m. Eastern , and undocking took place about 3 hours later.

The Soyuz slowly backs away from the station to avoid contaminating the station with exhaust particles during the de-orbit burn.

At about 4:20 a.m. Eastern, the crew fired the engines for the de-orbit burn and the spacecraft descended through the atmosphere. After separating the scientific and service modules, the crew capsule entered the atmosphere and landed a little after 4 am Eastern in Kazakhstan.

Back on Earth after 186 days.

Yuri Malenchenko now becomes the spacefarer with the second most time in space, at 828 days (first is Genady Pedalka). This was Kopra's second flight, bringing him to 244 days, and the completion of Peake's first mission for 186.
There was a another departure from the station a little while ago. This one was done by remote control.  

View of Cygnus from the ISS. The deployed solar panels are nicely symmetric.

On Tuesday June 14, astronauts used the robotic arm to undock and separate the Cygnus cargo spacecraft from the station. It arrived back in March of this year, and once all equipment and supplies were unloaded, the astronauts began filling it with waste, garbage, and unwanted equipment. The Cygnus, nicknamed Rick Husband after a NASA Astronaut, will de-orbit and burn up over the Pacific on June 22. Before that, though, The Rick Husband had a couple of assignments. First, on Tuesday, a special fire experiment was conducted in the craft by remote control from the ground. The purpose was to study how flames work in zero-gravity. This experiment was much larger than the ones performed on the ISS, and were safely done on the craft, separated from the ISS by the vacuum of space. Much more safe! The second item was to release 5 small Cube-Sat satellites into orbit on June 15. 

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