Russian, U. S. and European astronauts, strapped in the Soyuz TMA-09M crew transport, departed the International Space Station late Sunday and descended safely to Earth, landing under parachute in southern Kazakhstan after 5 1/2 months in orbit.Medical personnal check Fyodor Yurchikhin, reclined in center with blue blanket, following Soyuz TMA-09M landing in subfreezing weather in southern Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: NASA TV
Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA's Karen Nyberg and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano were greeted within minutes of their touchdown at 9:49 p.m., EST, or Monday at 8:49 a.m., local time, by Russian helicopter-borne recovery personnel.Soyuz TMA-09M moments from landing in southern Kazakhstan. Photo Credit:NASA TV
“It was a flawless descent for the Soyuz and its three crew members,” said NASA spokesman Rob Navias, from NASA's Mission Control Center, where the landing operations were monitored.
Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano appeared weary but in otherwise good shape as they were assisted from their capsule for a round of medical checks. The Soyuz crew also returned with a symbolic Olympic torch, which was displayed outside the ISS during a spacewalk by cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy on Saturday.
The Soyuz crew was to be flown by helicopter to Karaganda, Kazakhstan for a brief welcoming ceremony. Nyberg and Parmitano were to board a NASA jet for Houston, Tex., and NASA's Johnson Space Center. Yurchikhin was to fly on to Star City, Russia to rejoin his family.
The torch will continue on to Moscow then Sochi, Russia, where it will be used to ignite the Olympic flame at the start of the 2014 Winter Games on Feb. 7.
The torch arrived early last Thursday with the Soyuz TMA-11M crew that included Russian Mikhail Tyurin, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. They are starting a six month tour of duty on the ISS.
The returning ISS astronauts also departed with components from the NASA space suit worn by Parmitano on July 16 that leaked 1 to 1 1/2 liters of water into his helmet. The fan pump separator and contaminants removed from the garment's life support system assembly on Oct. 24 will be examined by NASA engineers who hope to soon reach a conclusion on the cause of the leak, contributing factors and a recovery strategy.
U S. spacewalks were suspended after the incident in which water leaked into an air vent in the helmet at the back of Parmitano's head. The water flowed over his communications cap to gather around Parmitano's eyes, ears and nose, as the former Italian Air Force test pilot made his way to the safety of the station's U. S. airlock.
With the departure of the TMA-09M crew on Sunday at 6:29 p.m., EST, command of the space station transferred from Yurchikhin to fellow cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, who will lead Expedition 38. The capsule's re-entry burn followed at 8:55 p.m., EST.
Sunday's ISS departure also marked a return of the ISS to six crew operations. The population of the orbital outpost grew to nine temporarily on Thursday with the arrival of the TMA-11M fliers.