Three U. S. and Russian astronauts returned to Earth late Friday, following a weather delayed departure from the International Space Station and the parachute descent of their Soyuz spacecraft into northern Kazakhstan.
With the departure, veteran astronaut Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to assume command of the orbiting science laboratory.
Previous Expedition 34 station commander Kevin Ford, of NASA, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin undocked from the space station at 7:43 p.m., EDT, orbiting the Earth in their Soyuz capsule until a 10:13 p.m., braking maneuver initiated their descent.
Their spacecraft touched down north of Arkalyk at 11:08 p.m., EDT, or on March 16 at 9:08 a.m., Kazakh time, ending a 144-day flight that established new research milestones for the ISS. Plans for a March 14 descent were postponed by fog and freezing rain across the northern Kazakh landing zone that prevented staging of Russian helicopters with recovery forces.
Conditions cleared Friday, though frigid temperatures and a building cloud and fog mass returned prior to the descent, restricting access by helicopter born recovery forces. Hadfield, a 53-year-old three flight veteran and retired Canadian Air Force colonel, will remain in charge of Expedition 35 through mid-May, when he descends to Earth with crew mates Tom Marshburn, of NASA, and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.
Hadfield joins the European Space Agency’s Frank De Winne, of Belgium as the only non-American and non Russian to command the six person orbiting science laboratory. Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko are scheduled to be joined on March 28 by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin.
Their Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft will be the first crewed vessel to attempt a same day launch and docking with the space station. Docking is scheduled for 10:31 p.m., EDT, or six hours and four orbits after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The journey typically spans two days and 34 orbits.