A multi-national crew in orbit since June aims to depart the International Space Station tonight, setting off for an atmospheric reentry and landing in more than half-a-foot of snow on the frigid steppes of north-central Kazakhstan.
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, U.S. astronaut Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency boarded a Soyuz spacecraft moored on the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment of the outpost. Hatches between the Soyuz and the station swung shut at 2:41 p.m. EST.
You can watch live coverage of the spacecraft departure, the deorbit burn and the landing here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer. Live coverage of the 6 p.m. undocking will begin at 5:30 p.m. Then check back at 8 p.m. for live coverage of the 8:32 p.m. deorbit burn and the 9:25 p.m. landing.
The weather at the landing site, located about 35 miles northeast of the Arkalyk, has been "fairly severe," NASA mission commentator Rob Navias said this afternoon. A half-foot of fresh snow piled on already existing drifts over the past 24 hours. Temperatures at landing time are expected to be in the teens and winds will be blowing snow at 15 mph.
The landing will come 32 minutes before sunrise.
Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa launched June 8 and were aboard the station for the final space shuttle mission -- a supply run to the outpost in July. Fossum turned over command of the station to U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank on Sunday. Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts -- Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov -- arrived at the outpost last Wednesday.