Monday, March 14, 2011

Station Launch Delayed; Landing Still On Tap

The planned launch late this month of a new International Space Station crew is being delayed so engineers can assess problems that cropped up during checkout of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

But two cosmonauts and American astronaut Scott Kelly remain scheduled to depart the outpost and return to Earth early Wednesday. The departure will mark the beginning of the 27th expedition aboard the station.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft with three members of the Expedition 27 crew had been slated to blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 30. However, engineers ran into problems when they were performing routine checkouts of the spacecraft communication system.

"We do know that the March 30 launch is going to be delayed. At this point we just don't know how long," said Kyle Herring, a spokesman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Flight controllers in the Russian Mission Control Center said the delay would only be a few days.

Flying to the station aboard the Soyuz: U.S. astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev. The crew will remain at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City outside Moscow until the trouble is sorted out.

Returning from the station early Wednesday: Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. The three crewmates will have spent 159 days in space and 157 on the station.

Kelly will hand over command of the outpost to Dmitry Kondratyev during a ceremony scheduled for 4:45 p.m. today. You can watch that event live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of this page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.

Kelly and his crewmates will say farewell and close hatches between their Soyuz 24 spacecraft and the station about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday. Live coverage of the farewell ceremony will begin at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday.

The Soyuz will undock from the station at 12:27 a.m. Wednesday and lap the Earth once before firing thrusters in a deorbit burn at 2:57 a.m. Wednesday. The deorbit burn will put the crew on course for a 3:48 a.m. Wednesday landing in central Kazakhstan.

The weather forecast for landing calls for stiff winds, a chance of snow and temperatures in the teens.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Against a backdrop of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow last Friday, (from left to right) Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and NASA astronaut Ron Garan prepared to lay flowers in a ceremonial tribute to Russian icons as part of activities leading to their launch in the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The trio will spend 5 1/2 months on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA.

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