A three man U. S. and Russian International Space Station crew returned safely to Earth early Friday, ending a 165 day mission to the orbiting science laboratory.
The 28 Soyuz mission spacecraft with NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin dropped from a sunny sky and touched down north of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan at 7:45 a.m., EDT, or three hours before sunset at the Central Asian landing site.
All three men appeared to be in good shape as they were assisted from their capsule by helicopter borne Russian recovery teams.
The spacecraft undocked from the space station at 4:18 a.m. A braking maneuver at 6:49 a.m, initiated the descent.
After on site medical checks, the fliers were to be flown by helicopter to Kostania in Kazakhstan for a traditional greeting ceremony. There, Burbank was to board a NASA jet for the long flight to Houston, Tex., and the Johnson Space Center. The cosmonauts were headed for Star City, Russia.
As the three men departed the station, command of the orbital outpost transitioned from Burbank to Russian Oleg Kononenko. Kononenko, American Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers are to be joined in mid-May by NASA’s Joe Acaba and Russians Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin.
During their five-and-a-half-month mission, Burbank’s crew particapted as subjects or operators in more than 180 multi-national science experiments focused on their health, biotechnology demonstrations, Earth observation, astronomy, combustion physics and materials science.
They also carried out major hard and software upgrades to the space station’s many U.S. command and control computers as well as Russian and European processors. Many of the U. S. upgrades are intended to assist ground based scientists and engineers with research projects on the space station.