A few hours ago, the Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, the American astronaut Karen Nyberg and the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano returned to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft, which landed without problems in Kazakhstan. The three have spent nearly six months on the International Space Station, where they arrived on May 28, 2013. Initially, they were part of Expedition 36, in the second half of their stay they were part of the Expedition 37 with Fyodor Yurchikhin as commander of the Station.
The Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was also the protagonist of two spacewalks but the second one was cut short when the helmet of his spacesuit started filling with water. All ended well but that experience revealed the dangers that problems all in all trivial that can cause in space.
Over the months, the crew conducted many scientific experiments and were involved in the maintenance of the International Space Station. They also handled the arrival and the departure of some spaceships. In September came the Orbital Science Cygnus cargo spacecraft, the second private spacecraft to reach the International Space Station. The Cygnus departed at the end of October, followed a few days later by the other cargo spacecraft ATV-4 Albert Einstein. Both were destroyed in their re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere because they were not built to land.
On November 1, the Soyuz TMA- 09M spacecraft was relocated. It was docked to the Rassvet module and was moved to make it dock with the Zvezda service module. The trip was short if you don’t keep in mind the fact that the Soyuz was moving in orbit together with the Station but due to the proximity to it every movement was planned and executed with great care.
The three crew members have also returned to Earth the Olympic torch. It was brought to the Station a few days ago by their replacements and last Saturday it was brought into outer space during a spacewalk. Because of the understandably very strict safety regulations, the torch never had its typical flame on during its trip in space but it was still important to bring even beyond the Earth a symbol of the Olympic spirit.
Yesterday, Fyodor Yurchikhin officially transferred command of the International Space Station to his fellow cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, marking the beginning of Expedition 38. The crew of the Station remains complete because the three replacements had already arrived a few days ago so they’ll keep on working with no slowdown.