Expedition 35 Ends After Five Dramatic Months in Orbit

Carrying Canada's first ISS Commander, Chris Hadfield, together with Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Soyuz TMA-07M descends toward a touchdown in central Kazakhstan after 146 days in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

Carrying Canada’s first ISS Commander, Chris Hadfield, together with Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Soyuz TMA-07M descends toward a touchdown in central Kazakhstan after 146 days in orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 35 crewmen Chris Hadfield of Canada, Roman Romanenko of Russia, and NASA’s Tom Marshburn landed safely Monday, after a dramatic and eventful five months in orbit. Their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft touched down to the southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan at 9:31 p.m. CDT (8:31 a.m. local time Tuesday, 14 May). During their mission, the three men spent 146 days in space, of which 144 were spent aboard the expansive International Space Station. They supported the arrival of several visiting craft—including SpaceX’s second dedicated Dragon cargo ship in March—and two complex spacewalks from the Russian and U.S. segments of the station.

Launched on 19 December of last year, Soyuz TMA-07M inaugurated a mission which broke many old records and established many new ones. Aboard the spacecraft, Chris Hadfield became only the second long-duration resident of the ISS, and on 13 March 2013 became the first of his countrymen to take command of the orbital research laboratory. In all likelihood, few others will follow in his immediate footsteps. A future expedition featuring a Canadian crew member is provisionally scheduled for later this decade, but it seems unlikely that it will be in a position of command. Alongside Hadfield for the ride into space, Russia’s Roman Romanenko most certainly kept the cosmonaut business in the family, for his father, Yuri Romanenko, was also a veteran cosmonaut who set two empirical space-endurance records of 96 days in 1978 and 326 days in 1987. And NASA’s Tom Marshburn was already an accomplished flight surgeon and veteran spacewalker before he ever flew this mission to the ISS.

Hadfield, Romanenko and Marshburn gain their first impressions of life back on Earth in the minutes after extraction from the Soyuz TMA-07M descent module. Photo Credit: NASA

Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn gain their first impressions of life back on Earth in the minutes after extraction from the Soyuz TMA-07M descent module. Photo Credit: NASA

In their five months aloft, Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn formed the second half of Commander Kevin Ford’s Expedition 34 crew, participating in numerous key scientific and engineering experiments and welcoming SpaceX’s second dedicated Dragon cargo ship under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. The CRS-2 vehicle, launched on 1 March, encountered early difficulties with maneuvering thrusters, but accomplished a smooth rendezvous and berthing with the space station. By the time of its departure on 26 March, Ford’s crew had returned to Earth and it was Hadfield, as Expedition 35 Commander, who oversaw its perfect unberthing and departure.

Hadfield has become known across the world during his mission for utilizing social media—including regular Twitter updates and stunning photography—to communicate his message of wonder and excitement at having an opportunity that so few other human beings can ever experience. One of the outlets for his message was through music, for Hadfield is an accomplished guitarist and member of the all-astronaut rock band “Max Q.” Within days of arriving aboard the ISS in December, he produced “Jewel in the Night,” which was lauded as the first original song ever written and recorded from the space station. Earlier this week, shortly before his departure, his name made headlines around the world with his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The lyrics, Hadfield’s guitar, and his voice were made all the more electrifying by the view of Earth, gliding past the station’s multi-windowed cupola.

“Planet Earth is blue,” he sang as the Home Planet serenely filled the station’s windows, “and there’s nothing I can do … ” In few other instances have the words of a songwriter or cover artist been delivered with more keenness and sincerity.

With Hadfield in command of the ISS, SpaceX's second dedicated Dragon (CRS-2) craft was unberthed and departed the space station. Photo Credit: NASA

With Hadfield in command of the ISS, SpaceX’s second dedicated Dragon (CRS-2) craft was unberthed and departed the space station. Photo Credit: NASA

During their 146 days in space, Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn traveled almost 62 million miles and completed 2,336 orbits of the globe. Since the departure of Kevin Ford and his Expedition 34 team of Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeni Tarelkin in mid-March, the station crew returned to its full six-man strength on 28 March with the arrival of Soyuz TMA-08M and Pavel Vinogradov, Aleksandr Misurkin, and Chris Cassidy. Uniquely, they followed a same-day rendezvous profile, docking with the ISS a mere six hours after launch—a practice which is expected to continue with the next crew, later in May. If this same-day profile continues, the flight of Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn could turn out to be the last mission to follow the old-style, two-day rendezvous.

Even in April and May, as Expedition 35 entered its home stretch, the mission showed no sign of reducing its pace and continued at fever-pitch. On 19 April, Vinogradov and Romanenko performed an EVA to install and retrieve scientific experiments outside the station. It was Romanenko’s first EVA and for veteran spacewalker Vinogradov—aged 59—it made him the oldest human being ever to step outside of a spacecraft in orbit. A week later, hearts jumped into throats shortly after the routine launch of Progress M-19M, when the failure of a navigational antenna threatened the delivery of 3.1 tons of equipment and supplies. Fortunately, a nominal docking with the ISS was accomplished on 26 April.

The drama of Expedition 35 continued until its final days. On 11 May, astronauts Chris Cassidy (pictured) and Tom Marshburn undertook a lengthy EVA to remove, replace and test a new ammonia coolant pump. Photo Credit: NASA

The drama of Expedition 35 continued until its final days. On 11 May, astronauts Chris Cassidy (pictured) and Tom Marshburn undertook a lengthy EVA to remove, replace, and test a new ammonia coolant pump. Photo Credit: NASA

As May dawned, Hadfield tweeted that he had tried his Sokol launch and entry suit for size, ahead of the scheduled return to Earth of the Soyuz TMA-07M crew on the night of 13-14 May. He joked that he was pleased the suit still fitted him after five months in weightlessness. Yet the drama and the unexpected remained around every corner. On the morning of 9 May, ammonia coolant was spotted leaking from the region of a pump in the P-6 truss, and a long-established plan was kicked into action to tend to an issue which might have forced the shutdown of part of the station’s electrical power grid. Last Saturday, Expedition 35’s Cassidy and Marshburn performed a lengthy EVA to remove, replace, and test a new ammonia coolant pump. Although the success of the repair will not be known with certainty for some weeks, it was a remarkable example of what Hadfield described as the ingenuity of the crew and their ground teams in a time of crisis.

With the departure of Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn, the station is temporarily reduced to its skeleton three-man staff of Expedition 36’s Vinogradov, Misurkin, and Cassidy. In two weeks’ time, they will be joined—following the second fast-rendezvous by a human craft—by Soyuz TMA-09M crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA’s Karen Nyberg, and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. This will restore the station to six-person capacity throughout the summer—a summer which is expected to involve multiple Russian EVAs and at least two spacewalks from the U.S. segment.

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