Monday, March 15, 2010

Crew Members get ready for Return to Earth from Space Station

Soaring high over the Earth in the International Space Station, the astronauts and cosmonauts of the Expedition 22 crew began a new week Monday, the final week in space for two of their number.

Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev will depart the station Thursday aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft. They will undock from the orbiting complex and take a three-and-a-half-hour ride that will culminate in a parachute-assisted landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan early that morning.

Williams and Suraev began their final week in orbit by testing the Soyuz spacecraft’s motion control system and recharging the satellite telephone they will carry with them in the unlikely event that they land off course in the barren landing region and need to contact search and recovery forces. They also spent three hours going over procedures for their homeward flight with specialists on the ground.

As members of the Expedition 21 and 22 crews, Williams and Suraev will have spent 169 days in space. Including his time on the Expedition 13 and STS-101 crews, this will give Williams a total of 362 days in space, placing him fourth on the all-time U.S. list of space travelers behind Peggy Whitson with 377 days, Mike Foale with 374 and Mike Fincke with 366. Williams will be 26th on the all-time endurance list for all space travelers.

Expedition 22 Flight Engineers Soichi Noguchi, T.J. Creamer and Oleg Kotov will continue their stay on the station becoming the new Expedition 23 crew. Kotov will become the new station commander when the departing Williams enters the Soyuz vehicle and closes the hatch.

On April 4, Expedition 23 will expand to a six-member crew. Arriving in the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft will be new station crew members Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko.

On April 7, space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to arrive for a thirteen day mission to supply the station with new science racks and ammonia tanks. STS-131 will feature three spacewalks and the delivery of the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module.

In preparation for the joint spacewalks to be performed during STS-131, Creamer and Noguchi packed up equipment for Discovery to return to Earth and Noguchi performed maintenance on the cooling loops in the U.S. spacesuits housed in the station’s Quest airlock.

Controllers on the ground operated Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, to remove the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, known as Dextre, from the Mobile Base System (MBS) on the complex’s truss structure. Tuesday they will move it to the outside of the Destiny laboratory in order to make the MBS available for use during STS-131.

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