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Last updated: January 25, 2017



Expedition 42 Comes to a Close as Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Barry Wilmore Return Safely to Earth in a Soyuz Capsule After 167 Days on the ISS


Posted: 12 March 2015
Expedition 42 resting in chairs after being pulled from the Soyuz capsule on the steepes of Kazakhstan after 167 days on the ISS
Photo: NASA
Expedition 42 astronauts: (From left) Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Barry WIlmore after exiting the Soyuz capsule on March 12th, 2015 in Kazakhstan.
Monday evening March 11th at 9:07 PM central time in the U.S.A. thousands of people watched online at the NASA website, while the Soyuz capsule touched down at the same moment the following day in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan around 6:00 AM.  Inside were the 3 flight engineers making their return to Earth after 167 days on the International Space Station (ISS). Commander of the Soyuz, Alexander Samokutyaev, now has a total of 331 days in space over 2 flights, Barry Wilmore, commander of Expedition 42 now has 178 days in space over 2 flights, and flight engineer Elena Serova has a total of 167 days in space over 1 flight, and is the 4th Russian woman to go into orbit. Their return brings ISS Expedition 42 to a close. During their 167 days on the ISS, the crew made 2,672 orbits of the Earth and traveled 70 million statute miles.

At 8:16 pm central time in the U.S.A., about 50 minutes before their touch down in Kazakhstan, the crew initiated the 4 minute de-orbit burn, in which the Soyuz’ engines are turned on to cause the Soyuz to move closer in from Earth’s orbit and to enter Earth’s atmosphere.  One minute and 30 seconds into the 4 minute de-orbit burn, the crew inside the Soyuz lost communication with mission control in Russia. They remained out of contact for over the next 30 minutes.  It is not unusual for the Soyuz capsule to lose contact with mission control during the return flight and the commander was able to execute the proper sequences for a normal return flight without communication from mission control.

As they approached entry into Earth’s atmosphere, only about 20 minutes remained before scheduled touch down.  As the Soyuz capsule began to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, temperatures outside the Soyuz capsule windows reached about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Some Soyuz travelers have described the experience as “turning into a fireball” as they see red plasma outside the Soyuz windows during this part of the return trip.  During reentry, expedition 42 return crew was still out of contact with mission control in Russia.


While communication was down tracking equipment was able to detect the Soyuz on its trajectory over Egypt and could see that the descent module had been properly separated from the instrument and orbital modules as planned.  The crew appeared to be fine and proceeding as normal if this was any indicator. Less than 15 minutes before touching down in Kazakhstan, the crew in the Soyuz did regain communication with mission control in Russia to let them know everything was fine. Shortly after the main parachute deployed, the search and rescue teams were sent out to scope the steepes in search of the capsule, which was immediately found, having landed in the correct vertical position, as opposed to on its side. 

Ladders were positioned on the side of the Soyuz, and the crew was pulled out by straps on their spacesuits based on seating arrangement with Commander Samokutyaev in the central position being removed first, Barry Wilmore to his right second, and Elena Serova pulled from the capsule last.  All astronauts were carried to reclining chairs and checked out by medical teams. Serova appeared to be the first to smile for the cameras, looking unharmed and happy. This was the astronauts first time sitting in about 6 months, as they had been floating in microgravity climate for 167 days. The weight of Earth’s gravity feels very oppressive to their bodies when returning to Earth at first. Next they are helicoptered to the press conference, medical teams permitting, and greeted by news crews. At the news conference in Kazakhstan they are greeted warmly in the traditional ceremony that follows a Soyuz capsule landing and they are presented with special gifts to memorialize the completion of their mission. Congratulations to expedition 42 on the end of their mission to ISS and a sincere thanks for being an inspiration to all in the exploration of space.

by Andrea Boggs

Related topic: How the Soyuz Capsule Returns from the ISS - Sp12

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