Expedition 33 crew returns to Earth

Monday, November 19, 2012

Recovery forces receive the astronauts.
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Three astronauts return to Earth today, after touching down safely in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz capsule in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning. The landing marks the culmination of a 127 day mission to the international space station, and only the fourth time a Soyuz capsule has landed at night in its missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronauts Yuri Malenchenko, Sunita Williams, and Akihiko Hoshide were carried to reclining chairs to help them re-acclimate to gravity after being extracted from the sideways capsule by Russian recovery forces. The astronauts bundled up in their recliners as air temperature at the site hit -11°C (12°F).

The group started their trip to the ISS on July 15 launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. In their four and a half month stay on the station they completed a variety of different studies including the effects of microgravity on the human spine and studying melting glaciers. They also were aboard to receive the first commercial shipment made by SpaceX's Dragon cargo resupply mission.

"It was a beautiful departure. It was just beautiful to watch the ship fly away," said Kevin Ford, now the current commander of the ISS. Ford was passed command of the ISS after in a change of command ceremony on Saturday. During the ceremony Williams remarked, "I think we've left the ship in good shape and I'm honored to hand it over to Kevin."

Upon approval of the medical team Williams and Hoshide will return to Houston, Texas, while Malenchenko heads back to Star City, Russia.