Space Station Astronauts Descend Safely to Earth

Fyodor Yurchikhin, left, Shannon Walker greeted at Kazakh landing site with flowers. Photo Credit/NASA TV

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia, has descended safely into northern Kazakhstan, ending their 5 1/2 month mission to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-19 settled to the ground under parachute north of Arkalyk on Nov. 25 at 11:46 p.m. EST. (10:46 a.m. on Nov. 26, Kazakh time). Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker were quickly greeted by helicopter born Russian search and rescue personnel and a NASA team.

“All three appear to be in excellent shape,” said NASA public affairs officer Rob Navias, who was standing along side the spacecraft as a member of the Russian-led recovery forces.

The departure of the two man, one woman crew from the space station’s Rassvet docking module at 7:23 p.m. EST, brought an end to the 25th expedition to the outpost since the initiation of continuous staffing a decade ago this month.

Yurchikhin, the TMA-19 commander, was assisted by Walker, who served as flight engineer, during the descent.

As the Soyuz crew departed, command of the station was transferred from Wheelock to fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

“It’s been just an incredible journey, a journey of growth personally and professionally,” said Wheelock during a reflective moment earlier this week. “It’s far exceeded anything I could have imagined.”

During his stay, Wheelock led a series of August spacewalks in which he and NASA’s Tracy Caldwell Dyson repaired a sudden failure of the station’s cooling system, which prompted a significant power down. Caldwell Dyson returned to Earth in late September.

Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Schripochka, the first members of Expedition 26, boarded the station in early October.

They will be joined by Dmitri Kondratyev, NASA’s Catherine Coleman and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, who are scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-20 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 15.

Last week, the International Space Station partners agreed to move up the landing by four days to secure the air space around the Kazakh capitol of Astana for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Dec. 1-2.

The Soyuz crew was to be flown to Kustanai, the staging site for the recovery forces. Wheelock and Walker were to be flown from there to Houston, Texas, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and Yurchikhin to Star City, Russia. All three will undergo several weeks of supervised rehabilitation to strengthen muscles and bones weakened during their 163 days in space.


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