A Russian-built Soyuz space capsule landed safely back on Earth Sept. 15, returning an American astronaut and two cosmonauts home after more than five months in space.
The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft touched down at about 11:59 p.m. EDT, though it was 9:59 a.m. Sept. 16 local time at their landing site on the steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia.
Russia ’s Mission Control center in Moscow lost direct communications with the Soyuz during its descent through Earth’s atmosphere, but the glitch apparently did not affect the spacecraft’s normal landing operations.
“A bull’s eye landing for the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft,” NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during the agency’s landing commentary. Earlier, Navias said a recovery team aircraft was able to contact the Soyuz crew and confirmed that they were doing well during the descent.
The spacecraft, which landed on its side, returned NASA astronaut Ron Garan and cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev to Earth after 164 days in space. Three other space station residents stayed behind on the orbiting lab to complete their own months-long space trek.
Garan and his Russian crewmates launched April 4.
Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyaev made up part of the Expedition 28 crew of the international space station, with Borisenko commanding the mission.
Meanwhile, another three-man crew is preparing to launch toward the space station.
A Soyuz 28 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov is set to launch from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome Nov. 14 and arrive at the space station two days later.
The Soyuz 28 spaceflight was delayed from a late-September liftoff following the failed launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket carrying an unmanned cargo ship last month. A malfunction in the gas generator in the Soyuz rocket’s third-stage engine caused the failure. The Soyuz and its cargo ship, called Progress 44, ultimately crashed in Siberia.
Since the Progress 44 cargo ship launched on a Soyuz rocket similar to that which will carry the Soyuz 28 crew, NASA and Russia’s Federal Space Agency agreed to ground all station-bound flights until the cause could be determined. Under the revised schedule the space station partners announced Sept. 15 the final crewed Soyuz launch of the year is slated for Dec. 26.