The International Space Station U. S./Russian Expedition 30 crew returned to Earth April 27 in their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft, the final Soyuz in the standard TMA series.
The next joint crew is being readied for launch to the ISS by mid May in the new M version of the Soyuz.
ISS commander NASA astronaut Capt. Daniel C. Burbank, USCG ret., along with Russian Soyuz pilots cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov landed their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft in Kazakhstan at 7:45 a.m. EDT after undocking from the space station’s Russian Poisk module at 4:18 a.m. EDT.
The trio, which arrived at the station on Nov. 16, 2011, spent a total of 165 days in space, 163 of them conducting research on the ISS. Their launch from Baikonur occurred during blizzard conditions with air temperatures around 23F.
It was the third space mission for Burbank, who had earlier logged two space shuttle missions including a major ISS assembly mission on Atlantis in 2006.
Prior to becoming an astronaut, Burbank was an aircraft commander in Coast Guard HH-60 rescue helicopters based initially at Elizabeth City, N. J. In 1991 he and his crew flew an extraordinary, but unsuccessful, rescue mission into extremely dangerous weather conditions in what has become legend as “The Perfect Storm” in search of the missing 60 ft. fishing boat Andrea Gail. The loss of the ship and her crew spawned a best selling book and a highly acclaimed movie.
The Soyuz reentry module made a precise landing in the target area near the city of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan where the crew was taken initially. Burbank should return to the Johnson Space Center, Houston shortly to begin a formal program to readapt to Earth’s gravity.
Before leaving the station, Burbank handed over command of Expedition 31 to the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Oleg Kononenko, who remains aboard the station with NASA astronaut Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers. They will be joined by NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin. Acaba, Padalka and Revin are scheduled to launch May 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and dock with the station on May 16.
That mission will be in a highly modernized TMA-M that is now being phased into ISS launch operations. It has numerous system upgrades including a new digital computer and glass cockpit with much better displays. The M versions are also being built with more aluminum structure to reduce weight and make them easier to produce.
One of the most surprising and memorable highlights of the ISS Expedition 30 flight was the discovery by Burbank that the ISS had a stunning view of the Comet Lovejoy, millions of miles from Earth, imaged here with background stars as if it was about to touch Earth’s limb.