Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Station Crew Returns To Arctic Conditions

American astronaut Scott Kelly and his Expedition 26 crewmates Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka returned to brutally arctic conditions on the wind-and-snow swept steppes of Kazakhstan today, prompting a hurry-up recovery.

Stiff winds were gusting up to and above 30 knots, and their Soyuz capsule landed on its side, dragging its parachute about 25 yards before coming to a stop in knee-deep snow.

The conditions gave flight surgeons enough pause to cancel the traditional raising of an inflatable medical tent, the traditional welcome-home roses, and a traditionally relaxed initial re-adaptation to normal gravity.

The returning space travelers instead are being whisked off in helicopters to the north-central city of Kustanai, Kazakhstan, before heading back to Star City outside Moscow.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias, who is at the landing site, said it is "too cold, too windy, too arctic" to do anything else.

The conditions, however, are relatively normal for this time of year in Kazakhstan, and Russian recovery forces "are old hands" at dealing with rough winter conditions, Navias said.

Despite the difficult conditions, all three crewmembers were extracted in about 30 minutes.

For the record, Kaleri -- who now has tallied 770 days in orbit during five separate flights -- now is the second most-experienced space traveler of all time.

Only Sergei Krikalev, who chalked up 803 days in space during multiple missions, has spent more time traveling in space. Krikalev now is the director of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City outside Moscow -- which is where the Expedition 26 crew is headed.

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