Welcome home: Russia's space agency ground personnel help US astronaut Daniel Burbank to get out from a Soyuz capsule shortly after landing in a Soyuz capsule outside the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on Friday. A Soyuz space capsule carrying Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin and NASA's Burbank touched down safely Friday on the sweeping steppes of central Kazakhstan, ending the men's 163-day stay on the International Space Station. (AP/Kirill Kudryavtsev, Pool)
A Soyuz space capsule
carrying two Russians and an American touched down safely Friday on the
sweeping steppes of central Kazakhstan, ending the men's 163-day stay on
the International Space Station.
Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and NASA's Daniel Burbank returned to
Earth as the Russian-made module landed on schedule at a remote, dusty
site north of the town of Arkalyk, then rolled on its side.
NASA television broadcast vivid images of the capsule
carried by a parachute swaying slightly as it floated downward in the
clear skies while six all-terrain vehicles approached the landing spot.
Eight search-and-rescue helicopters circled the landing site to ensure a
Shkaplerov, in the capsule's
central seat, was the first to be hauled out and hoisted into a
reclining chair. While medical personnel mopped his brow and checked his
vital signs, the astronaut smiled broadly and chatted with his
Ivanishin, and then a heartily laughing Burbank, went through the same procedure a few minutes later.
Speaking from the touchdown site, NASA spokesman Rob Navias called it "a bullseye landing."
"The spacecraft landed almost exactly where it was forecast to," he told NASA television.
The retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet has left
Russia's Soyuz spacecraft as the only means to deliver crews to the
The Soyuz capsule's voyage from
the space station started 3 1/2 hours earlier, when it undocked and
began a slow, gentle drift away. About 60 miles (100 kilometers) above
the earth, the Soyuz began atmospheric re-entry, turning its
heat-resistant shield forward to protect the space travelers from the
intense heat generated by friction with the air.
The crew then began sensing gravity for the first time in almost half a year.
A little under 15 minutes ahead of touchdown, with the
Soyuz traveling at around 800 kilometers per hour (490 mph), a series
of parachutes deployed.
As the Soyuz made its
gradual descent, one unidentified ground control staff member remarked
that "Anatoly (Ivanishin) must be real hungry right now" and that he
would be looking forward to "soup and some meat."
In the final minutes before touchdown, the braking parachutes were
jettisoned to make way for the billowing ringed parachute that slows the
module to around 25 kph (15 mph).
cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko has now taken over as commander of the space
station and will stay until July together with NASA astronaut Don Pettit
and Holland's Andre Kuipers.
They will now
prepare for the arrival of first commercial cargo shipment to the space
station in early May. The Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better
known as SpaceX, launches its Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral on
April 30, and the capsule will take a few days to get to the space
It will be the first time a private company has launched space station supplies.
The space station will then return to its standard
six-person crew with the arrival of NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian
colleagues Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, who will blast off from
the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 17. (nvn)