ISS crew returns to Earth

After four months aboard the International Space Station, three astronauts touched down safely in Kazakhstan early yesterday morning.

Flight engineer Joe Acaba of NASA, and commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Sergei Revin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, undocked their Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft from the space station at 7:09 pm EDT and landed north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 1053 pm.

The spacecraft fired its orbital engines for the last time at 9:56 pm. It then separated, with the descent module entering the atmosphere, deployibng its parachutes then firing its landing engines just a few feet above the ground to soften its landing.

The three astronauts had been at the station since May 17 and spent 125 days in space. They orbited Earth 2,000 times and traveled 52,906,428 miles. Padalka now ranks fourth for the most days spent in space – a total of 711 days during four flights.

With Padalka gone, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams has taken command of Expedition 33 – only the second woman to command the station.

It’s Williams’s second mission in space – her first being Expedition 14 as aflight engineer. She has conducted six spacewalks, four during Expedition 14 and two on Expedition 32, for a total of 44 hours and two minutes.

Williams and her crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will have the station to themselves until the arrival of three new crew members, including NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, in mid-October. They themselves will leave on November 12.