Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kelly and Crew Head Toward Homecoming

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts departed the International Space Station today, winding up the 26th expedition to the outpost and heading for a landing on the cold, snow-swept steppes of central Kazakhstan.

Outgoing station commander Scott Kelly and two colleagues -- Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka -- undocked from the station at 12:27 a.m., backing away in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as it flew 216 miles above China.

The crew aimed to perform a few tests after the undocking and lap the Earth once before setting up for a thruster firing that would send them toward an atmospheric reentry and landing some 159 days after their launch last October.

The four-minute, 17-second thruster firing is scheduled for 3:03 a.m. Landing north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan is slated for 3:53 a.m.

Kelly and his crewmates started boarding the Soyuz about 9:20 a.m.

"Goodbye to the International Space Station. We shall meet again," Kelly said.

"Have fun, Scott," said fellow U.S. astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman. "Soft landings."

Coleman remained onboard with Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Italian astronaut Paulo Nespoli of the European Space Agency.

You can watch the reentry and landing operations live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. And be sure to refresh this page for periodic updates.

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