Surreal Images of Soyuz Landing in the Dark

The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is seen shortly after it landed on November 19, 2012 with the Expedition 33 crew. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft carrying Expedition 33 Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan, and even though it was 7:56 a.m. Kazakhstan time (01:56 UTC Nov. 19, 8:56 p.m. EST on Nov. 18), it was still dark near the remote northern latitude town of Arkalyk (50°14’53.16″N). This was the first pre-dawn landing in darkness for a station crew since April 9, 2006, when Expedition 12 crew members returned. The overhead pictures from the scene have a surreal feel to them.

A problem with the Soyuz’ parachute – it deployed about 5 seconds later than planned – caused the crew to land several miles away from the planned landing site, but a Russian recovery team and NASA personnel reached the landing site by helicopter shortly afterward to assist the crew in getting out of the spacecraft, which landed on its side. Frigid temperatures greeted the crew when the hatch was opened; it was about -12 C (12 F), said NASA TV commentator Rob Navias.

Another overhead view of the Soyuz. Note the soot on the snow from the landing. Credit: Ria Novosti//Maxim Shipenkov. See a slideshow of images here.

The return of Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko wraps up 127 days in space for the three since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15, including 125 days spent aboard the International Space Station.

Screenshot from NASA TV of the post-landing activities.

Earlier the crew bid farewell to their fellow crewmates, NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy, and closed the hatches between the spacecraft at 2:15 p.m. When the Soyuz undocked from the station’s Rassvet module at 5:26 p.m. it marked the end of Expedition 33 and the beginning of Expedition 34 under the command of Ford.

The Expedition 33 crew sit in chairs outside the Soyuz Capsule just minutes after they landed in a remote area outside the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Three additional Expedition 34 flight engineers — NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko — are scheduled to launch from Baikonur Dec. 19 and dock to the station two days later for a five-month stay. Hadfield will become the first Canadian to command the station when Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin depart in March, marking the start of Expedition 35.

Here’s the video of the landing, although there is no actual footage of the Soyuz touching down, since it was dark and the spacecraft landed well away from the planned landing spot.

Soyuz Launches New Crew to Space Station

The Soyuz rocket with three Expedition 33/34 crew members launched to the International Space Station on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Three new crew members — and a stuffed hippo — are on their way to the International Space Station. Expedition 33/34 NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford, Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft at 10:51 UTC (6:51 a.m. EDT, 5:51 p.m. Baikonur time) Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The trio is now safely in orbit, and on Thursday they will hook up with the ISS and join their Expedition 33 crewmates — Commander Suni Williams, ISS veteran Yuri Malenchenko, and Akihiko Hoshide — onboard the Space Station.

It was a beautiful daytime launch from the Site 31 launchpad, a different pad than usual. The pad that is normally used for human launches is undergoing renovations.

The stuffed hippo was given to the crew by Novitskiy’s daughter. Soyuz crews have had a history of having a mascot hanging in view of the cameras and when it starts floating is the visual confirmation of when the crew reaches orbit. The hippo isn’t the only animal on board. 32 medaka fish are stowed along for the ride, as they will be part of a new aquarium on the ISS called the Aquatic Habitat that will study how the fish adapt to microgravity.

Watch the video of the launch, below:

Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin will be on the ISS for about five months, until March 2013. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide, who have been on the station since July, will return to Earth Nov. 19.

The next launch to the ISS will be on Dec. 21 when cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn head to the Station on board the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft.