Expedition 26 crew returns to Earth safely

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Expedition 26 crew (From left to right: Kelly, Kaleri and Skripochka) returned safely to earth Wednesday aboard Soyuz TMA-01M after several months aboard the ISS.
Image: NASA.

The Expedition 26 crew returned to Earth safely on Wednesday aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft after a 157-day tour of duty aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Landing occurred on the Kazakhstan Steppes.

The crew, consisting of Commander Aleksandr Kaleri and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Scott Kelly, launched to space on October 7 of last year, docking to the station a couple days later. According to NASA officials, landing conditions were "too cold, too windy, too arctic" to set up a medical tent as is usually done after a Soyuz landing. Instead, the cosmonauts and astronaut were taken to Kustanai, Kazakhstan before returning to Star City, Russia.

Despite the weather during landing and crew recovery operations, NASA spokesman Rob Navias says that the recovery teams are apt at recovering crews under such conditions. The three crewmembers exited the capsule about thirty minutes after a landing in deep snow.

The launch of the next flight to the ISS, Soyuz TMA-21, has been delayed due to technical problems, and is scheduled to lift-off no earlier than March 29.

Scott Kelly was in space at the time of the Tucson shooting during which his twin brother's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot. He and brother Mark Kelly are the only twins to have both flown into space.

This was the first spaceflight for Oleg Skripochka, the third for Scott Kelly, and the fifth for Aleksandr Kaleri. Kaleri is now the second most experienced space-traveler in human history, spending a total of 770 days in space and trailing only Sergei Krikalev, who has accumulated just over 800 days.