Alexander Skvortsov, Soyuz TMA-18 commander, samples an apple minutes after touching down in Kazakhstan Photo Credit/NASA TV
Russia's Soyuz TMA-18 descended to Earth early Sept. 25, touching down under parachute in north central Kazakhstan with the International Space Station Expedition 24 crew, Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson.
The descent module dropped from a sunny sky, reaching the ground at 1:23 a.m., EDT, or 11:23 a.m. Kazakh time, ending a 176 day mission for the two cosmonauts and NASA astronaut. The Soyuz crew was joined at the landing site south of Arkalyk by helicopter borne Russian search and recovery forces, accompanied by a NASA flight surgeon and other agency personnel.
Skvortsov, Kornienko and Caldwell Dyson were assisted from their capsule to a medical field tend for exams. They were to be flown by helicopter to Karaghanda, where the cosmonauts were to continue on by air transport to Star City, Russia. Caldwell Dyson was to fly to Houston, Tex., home to her Johnson Space Center training base. There, she will undergo several weeks of supervised physical rehabilitation to strengthen muscles and bones weakened by months of weightlessness.
The Expedition 24 astronauts were thwarted in their bid to leave the station and descend to Earth early Sept. 24th by a series of non-responsive latches on the station side of the TMA-18's docking mechanism.
While Skvortsov's Soyuz crew remained aboard the orbiting science lab for an extra night, space station flight engineer Fyodor Yurchikhin installed jumper cables that circumvented a faulty micro switch that apparently blocked the "unlatch" commands issued from Russia's Mission Control as well as from the control panel of the Soyuz.
The repairs enabled the capsule to undock smoothly on Sept. 24 at 10:02 p.m., EDT. After a single solo orbit of the Earth, the Soyuz crew fired braking rockets that initiated the descent on Sept. 25 at 12:31 a.m.
The departure marked the start of Expedition 25 aboard the station. Americans Doug Wheelock, who replaced Skvortsov as the commander, Shannon Walker and Yurchikhin will spend about two weeks aboard the orbital outpost awaiting Russians Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and American Scott Kelly.
Their Soyuz TMA-01M is scheduled to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Oct. 7. They'll reach the station two days later.