Thursday, September 15, 2011

Earth-Bound Crew Departs Space Station

A Soyuz spacecraft with two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut onboard pushed away from the International Space Station tonight as another three remained aboard the outpost.

The Russian Soyuz departed the station at 8:38 p.m. as the two spacecraft flew high over Northern China. Homebound on the Soyuz: Outgoing commander Andrey Borisenko, flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev and U.S. astronaut Ron Garan. Samokutyaev is commanding the Soyuz and is in the center seat of the descent module of Russian spacecraft. Garan is seated to his right; Borisenko is to his left.

The three station crewmates are backing off to a point about 12 miles from the station. Then, at about 11 p.m., Samokutyaev will fire braking rockets, slowing the ship enough to drop it on a 55-minute dive back to a midnight landing site in south-central Kazakstan.

You can watch live NASA TV coverage of the deorbit burn and landing here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer. Refresh his page, too, for periodic updates.

U.S. astronaut Mike Fossum now is in command of the station. Second-generation cosmonaut Sergei Volokov remains onboard with Satoshi Furukawa of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The departure marks the beginning of the 29th expedition to the station. The complex has been continuously staffed since the first outpost crew opened it for business in November 2000.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the NASA TV screen grab of the Soyuz spacecraft backing away from the International Space Station. The second is a picture of (left to right) Borisenko, Garan and Samokutyaev just before hatches between the Soyuz and the station were closed earlier tonight.

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