ISS Crew Members Back on Earth; Return Trips Uncertain for US Crews
Three International Space Station crew members returned to Earth May 13 after 188 days in space. The NASA reported that Expedition 39 crew increment of Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, RZ3FT, of Russia, and Astronauts Koichi Wakata, KC5ZTA, of Japan, and Rick Mastracchio, KC5ZTE, of the US, all appeared to be in good condition. Their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan, borne by parachute for the final part of its descent. Helicopters carrying Russian recovery teams and NASA personnel reached the landing site shortly afterward to assist the crew and to conduct medical examinations.
The undocking marked the end of Expedition 39 and the start of Expedition 40 under the command of NASA astronaut Steve Swanson. Wakata, the first Japanese ISS commander, passed the baton to NASA Astronaut Steve Swanson during a change-of-command ceremony on May 12. During their time aboard the ISS, Wakata and Mastracchio conducted Amateur Radio on the International Space Station school contacts from NA1SS onboard the station. Wakata also helped to commission the Ham Video digital amateur television system. Mastracchio performed three contingency spacewalks during his stay.
Swanson and his crewmates, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos, will operate the station as a three-person crew for 2 weeks until the scheduled arrival of three new crew members — Reid Wiseman, KF5LKT, of NASA, Max Suraev of Roscosmos, and Alexander Gerst, KF5ONO, of the European Space Agency. Although the trio is scheduled to launch to the station from Kazakhstan on May 28, increasing political tensions between Russia and the US stemming from the situation in Ukraine have cast doubts on Russia’s willingness to continue to ferry US crew members to the ISS.
On the day of Expedition 39’s return, Russia announced that it would deny US astronauts transportation to the station. Russia said its action was in response to US-imposed sanctions on Russia. Since the space shuttle program ended, the US has depended on Russian space vehicles to carry its astronauts into orbit.
According to media accounts, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said US involvement was not necessary for continued use of the station. Rogozin said the Russian ISS segment can exist independently from the US segment, while that’s not the case for the reverse situation. — Thanks to NASA, media accounts