As astronauts return, NASA sets future launch schedule

Three International Space Station crew members returned safely to Earth yesterday after a longer-than expected stay, as NASA sets a tentative launch schedule for the coming months.

NASA’s Ron Garan, along with Expedition 28 commander Andrey Borisenko and flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency, had opriginally been due to land the Soyuz spacecraft on September 8.

However, that flight was postponed because of the August 24 loss of the Progress 44 cargo ship, blamed on a malfunctioning gas generator in the rocket’s third stage engine.

Mike Fossum, who leads Expedition 29, is now in command on the ISS. He and flight engineers Satoshi Furukawa of Japan and Sergei Volkov of Russia are conducting research and maintenance aboard the station.

Follwing the report on the loss of the cargo ship, the rest of the crew is now expected – tentatively – to join them on the ISS on November 14.

“Our Russian colleagues have completed an amazing amount of work in a very short time to determine root cause and develop a recovery plan that allows for a safe return to flight,” says ISS program manager Michael Suffredini.

“We’ll have a longer period of three-person operations and a shorter than usual handover between the next two crews, but we are confident that the crews will be able to continue valuable research and execute a smooth crew transition.”

According to the current plan, the Soyuz 28 spacecraft, carrying NASA’s Dan Burbank and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov, will launch on November 14, arriving at the station two days later.

On Nov. 22, Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will undock their Soyuz 27 spacecraft and land in the northern Kazakhstan landing zone.

NASA’s Don Pettit, Russia’s Oleg Kononenko and Europe’s Andre Kuipers will leave Earth to replace them on or around December 26.