Three Expedition 37 crew members have landed after 166 days in space, completing a 70.3 million mile mission spanning more than 2,600 orbits of the Earth since their launch to the International Space Station in May.
The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft carrying Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkazgan at 9:49 p.m. Sunday (8:49 a.m. Monday, Kazakh time). A Russian recovery team and NASA personnel reached the landing site by helicopter shortly afterward to assist the crew and conduct health assessments.
Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin undocked the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from aft end the Zvezda service module at 6:26 p.m. EST Sunday as the station soared 262 miles over northeast Mongolia. The deorbit burn at 8:55 p.m. slowed the Soyuz for its decent into the Earth’s atmosphere and its parachute-assisted landing.
The undocking marked the end of Expedition 37 and the start of Expedition 38 under the command of Oleg Kotov. Yurchikhin passed the helm of the station over to Kotov during a change of command ceremony Sunday before he, Nyberg and Parmitano boarded their Soyuz and the hatches between the spacecraft were closed at 3:09 p.m.
Returning to Earth along with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano was the torch that will be used to light the Olympic flame at the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the 2013 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
The Olympic torch arrived at the space station Thursday aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft carrying three new crew members – Expedition 38 Flight Engineers Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata. To accommodate their arrival, Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano relocated their Soyuz spacecraft on Nov. 1 from the Rassvet module where it had been docked since May 28 over to Zvezda. The arrival of Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin marked the first time since October 2009 that nine people have served together aboard the station without the presence of a space shuttle.
Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy relayed the torch outside the station Saturday during a spacewalk to continue setting up a combination extravehicular activity workstation and biaxial pointing platform and deactivate a completed experiment.
Nyberg now has logged 180 days in space on two missions, 13 days of which were during the STS-124 mission in 2008 aboard space shuttle Discovery. Yurchikin now has logged 537 days in space on four missions on STS-112 in 2002, Expedition 15 in 2007 and Expeditions 24/25 in 2010. Parmitano now has logged 166 days in space during his first mission.
Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins, who launched and docked to the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-10M vehicle on Sept. 25, will return to Earth on March 12. Their departure will signify the beginning of Expedition 39 under the command of Wakata, the first Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut entrusted with that position
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