Unexpected Drama Accompanies Safe Landing of Three ISS Crew

Unexpected Drama Accompanies Safe Landing of Three ISS Crew

Three International Space Station (ISS) crew members returned safely to Earth tonight after an unexpected communications dropout during the deorbit burn added a bit of drama to their landing.

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan around 10:07 pm ET.  The exact landing time of their Soyuz TMA-14M was not confirmed at press time.  Poor visibility at the landing site due to fog and low clouds prevented visual confirmation of the landing by TV viewers.  Tense moments passed before the screen at Russia’s mission control finally displayed the comforting words — _¥_Á_¢_ _Ù___Á__Ó___– the spacecraft landed.

The reason for the communications dropout one-and-a-half minutes into a four-minute-41-second deorbit burn is unexplained for now.   CBS News space reporter Bill Harwood tweeted (@cbs_spacenews): “TMA14M: Comm dropouts during Soyuz entries are not unusual, but they usually don’t happen so early or last so long.”

Telemetry received at a  ground station in Egypt confirmed that the Soyuz modules separately correctly, but it was not until Soyuz commander Samokutyaev was finally heard saying that everything was fine onboard that a sigh of relief could be uttered.

Though it happened decades ago, veteran space analysts still remember the 1971 Soyuz 11 flight where communications were lost during reentry and many assumed it was a radio failure, but in fact the three Soviet cosmonauts had perished during reentry.   Recovery forces opened the Soyuz hatch expecting to find Georgy Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev eagerly awaiting them, but instead found them dead.  They had asphyxiated when a valve between their descent module and the orbital module — which separate during reentry — malfunctioned, allowing the spacecraft atmosphere to vent into space.  The three were not wearing spacesuits, a practice the Soviets had discontinued because they had confidence in their systems and the small interior of the Soyuz was difficult for three spacesuited crew members.  Following this tragedy, the Soviets returned to the practice of requiring spacesuits during launch and reentry, which limited them to two-person crews until a slightly more commodious version of Soyuz, Soyuz T, was introduced in 1980.  Soyuz 11 was the first spacecraft to dock successfully with a space

station, Salyut 1.  The three men were in space for 24 days, a record at

that time.

Fortunately, tonight’s anomaly, whatever it was, did not have any effect on the crew’s safety.  The three ISS crew members were extracted from their Soyuz spacecraft by Russian recovery forces and soon sat smiling and waving in special chairs on the frozen steppes awaiting medical checkups.  The two Russians were expected to return to Star City, outside of Moscow, while Wilmore boarded an airplane back to Johnson Space Center, TX.  The three spent 167 days in space on this mission.

From left to right, Soyuz TMA-14M crew members Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Barry “Butch” Wilmore, after landing in Kazakhstan,

March 11, 2015 ET.  Photo credit:  NASA TV.



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