Wrapping up a mission lasting over four months, three members of the Expedition 33 crew, namely Sunita Williams, Akihiko Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) and landed safely in Kazakhstan Sunday.
The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft carrying Expedition 33 commander Williams and flight engineers Hoshide and Malenchenko landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk at 8:56 p.m. EST. The trio arrived at the space station July 17. They spent 127 days in space, 125 of which were aboard the orbiting laboratory.
According to NASA, this was the first pre-dawn landing in darkness for a station crew since April 9, 2006, when Expedition 12 crew members returned. Shortly after the crew descended on Earth, a Russian recovery team and NASA personnel reached the landing site by helicopter to assist the crew and conduct health assessments.
Before the Expedition 33 crew bid farewell to their fellow crewmates, NASA astronaut Kevin Ford took command of the space station Nov. 18. When the Soyuz spacecraft undocked from the space station, it marked the beginning of Expedition 34. Ford and his crewmates, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin would tend to the station as a three-man crew for one month until the arrival of three new crew members, said NASA.
Expedition 33 conducted a wide range of physical science, Earth observation and technology demonstration investigations including testing radiation levels on the orbiting outpost, assessing how microgravity affects the spinal cord and investigating dynamic processes on Earth, such as melting glaciers, seasonal changes and human impacts on the ecosystem.
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Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko orbited Earth 2,032 times and traveled 54,090,628 miles. Williams, who has spent 322 days in space on her two missions, now ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female.
She previously served aboard the station as an Expedition 14/15 flight engineer from Dec. 9, 2006 to June 22, 2007. With 50 hours and 40 minutes, Williams holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.
For Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this was the second trip into space. He visited the station as an STS-124 mission specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery in 2008. During the Expedition 33 mission, Williams and Hoshide performed three spacewalks to replace a component that relays power from the space station's solar arrays to its systems and repair an ammonia leak on a station radiator.
Russian Soyuz Commander Malenchenko has spent 642 days in space on his five flights, which ranks him seventh on the all-time endurance list. Malenchenko, whose first launch was to the Russian space station Mir in 1994, has now visited the International Space Station four times.
According to NASA, three Expedition 34 flight engineers including 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.
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