American Dan Burbank, front row left, accepts command of the International Space Station from departing NASA astronaut Mike Fossum. Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin, Anton Shkaplerov and Sergey Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan, pictured left to right, are lined up behind. Photo Credit/NASA TV
Soyuz 27 astronauts Mike Fossum, Sergey Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa have departed the International Space Station, starting the re-entry leg of their 167-day mission to the orbiting science laboratory. The American, Russian and Japanese astronauts were expected to touchdown in their Soyuz TMA-02M capsule under parachute on the plains of Kazakhstan at 9:25 p.m., EST, or Tuesday at 8:25 a.m., local time -- about 30 minutes before sunrise. Heavy snow, high winds and temperatures less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit were forecast for the landing zone northeast of Arkalyk. Russian search and recovery teams, with representatives from NASA, were staged in helicopters and fixed wing aircraft throughout the region and prepared to greet the last of the Expedition 29 astronauts quickly.
The trio undocked from the station's Russian segment Rassvet module at 6 p.m., EST, and began to back away.The braking maneuver that will start the spacecraft's descent was scheduled for 8:32 p.m. EST. With the undocking, command of the orbital outpost shifted from Fossum to American Dan Burbank. The departure marked the start of the station's 30th crew expedition. Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin docked with the station on Nov. 16, two days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz 28 mission spacecraft. They are scheduled to be joined by an American, Russian and European astronaut on Dec. 23.