November 27, 2010

“Wheels” down in Kazakhstan


The International Space Station/Soyuz TMA-19 crew safely landed in Kazakhstan on November 26th (the evening of the 25th in the Americas). ISS Expedition 25 Commander Doug “Wheels” Wheelock, Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin touched down right on schedule in the chilly plains of Asia. Yurchikhin was Soyuz commander during the “uphill” ride to orbit, de-orbit and return to earth. Yurchikhin hit the targetted landing spot so perfectly that crews aboard Russian Energia recovery helicopters watched the Soyuz descent module touchdown. NASA and Russian PAO cameras caught the landing on video. Recovery crews were on the ground and at the capsule less than five minutes after touchdown. Click the image for the complete story.

Image above left: Soyuz TMA-19 crewmembers — NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, (second left in blue), Expedition 25 commander, along with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, Soyuz commander, and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, flight engineer — are seen after being removed from the Soyuz TMA-19 capsule near the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan Nov. 25, 2010 (USA time or Nov. 26 in local Kazakhstan time). The three are returning from over five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 24 and 25 crews. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Flight engineer Shannon Walker mentioned that she’d heard the Soyuz descent described as “a series of explosions followed by a car crash”. At touchdown the Soyuz is moving at about 10 meters per second or 22 miles per hour, rather like a fender bender. The Soyuz spacecraft consists of 3 sections, a propulsion/control module, the crew descent module and the orbital module. Following separation from ISS the Soyuz pulls away from the station. Once the spacecraft has separated from ISS the propulsion module fires a 4 minute de-orbit burn and the Soyuz is separated into 3 sections by explosive bolts. The “orbital” and “propulsion” modules burn up on re-entry only the “descent” module returns intact. Learn more here.inside-tma-19-descent-module.jpg 

Image left: Inside the descent module of the Soyuz TMA-19, three Expedition 25 crew members rehearse for their scheduled return to Earth aboard the Soyuz. From the left are NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, commander; Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, both flight engineers.

For astronauts, cosmonauts and passengers who fly aboard the Soyuz the ride is a cozy one, kind of like 3 people in the front seat of a Volkswagon Beetle.

After contacting “Wheels” via amateur radio while he was aboard ISS in mid-November I felt a personal connection to him and the crew of Expedition 25. It’s good to know they’re home safely!

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