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Three of the six U.S., Russian and Japanese crew members assigned to the International Space Station prepared to depart the orbiting science laboratory late Monday aboard the Soyuz 27 mission spacecraft for a parachute descent onto the plains of Kazakhstan. Heavy snow and cold temperatures were predicted in the recovery zone. American Mike Fossum, Russian Sergey Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa were expected to touchdown in the Soyuz TMA-02M at 9:25 p.m., EST, or Tuesday at 8:25 a.m., local time, ending a 167 day journey. Helicopter-borne Russian and NASA recovery teams were staged in the region.Hatches between the space station and the departing Soyuz capsule with the crew on board were closed as scheduled at 2:45 p.m., EST. The threesome was scheduled to undock from the Russian segment Rassvet module at 6 p.m., EST, marking the end of the 29th crew expedition to the station. "This was my dream mission," noted Fossum in a change of command ceremony that marked the start of Expedition 30, with NASA astronaut Dan Burbank taking the helm. Burbank arrived with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin on Nov. 16, two days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz 28 mission spacecraft."Thanks for handing over such a magnificent ship," said Burbank, who along with his Russian colleagues faced an unusually brief "hand over" period. "It's been a whirlwind. I can't promise I won't be calling you with questions. "The brief "hand over" between the two crews was prompted by the Aug. 24 third stage failure of a Soyuz U booster with the Progress 44 supply craft. The loss prompted a suspension of the Soyuz crew launches and threatened to force an evacuation of the station while Russia investigated and mounted a recovery strategy. The concern lifted with the trouble free Nov. 14 launch of the Soyuz 28 mission.The Progress loss was traced to a third stage fuel line blockage. As part of the recovery, Russia increased quality control measures on the Soyuz rocket production line. As part of the recovery, station crew operations were cut to three astronauts in mid-September. The station is tentatively scheduled to resume long term, six crew operations with the Dec. 21-23 launch and docking of the Soyuz 29 mission with American Don Pettit, Russian Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency.
os99, ISS, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA
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