Expedition 42 to the International Space Station is officially over with the safe landing of Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova in Kazakhstan. The decent featured a brief surge of drama when communications flickered out.
Top image: Soyuz TMA-14M descending under parachute above Kazakhstan on Thursday, March 12, 2015. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander "Саша" Samokutyaev and Elena Serova are returning to earth after a six month stay on the International Space Station.
Soyuz and crew drifting gently past a picturesque moon. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Their descent in the Soyuz spacecraft was mostly smooth, except that after contact was lost as usual during reentry, they were unable to reestablish communications until just 15 minutes before landing. Their launch was similarly dramatic in a retroactively harmless manner: the Soyuz spacecraft that carried the trio to orbit in the fall had a solar panel fail to properly deploy.
The crew tucked up for health checks on a frosty, foggy morning. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The foggy conditions at the landing site had a bonus side-effect: the extremely calm conditions meant that for once, the Soyuz capsule landed upright instead of its usual habit of tipping over at the last moment in a gust of wind.
Cosmonaut Alexander "Саша" Samokutyaev. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
During their 167-day mission, the astronauts completed over 50 scientific experiments, and participated in four spacewalks.
Both Wilmore and Samokutyaev participated in reconfiguring the International Space Station in preparation for upgrades related to the commercial crew transport program.
Astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Wilmore recently paired up with Terry Virts to complete three spacewalks running cabling for a hatch upgrade, while Samokutyaev took a spacewalk in October to strip unnecessary equipment from the station. Serova didn't manage to get time outside the station during her first trip to the space station.
The expedition also completed the usual round of experiments — microgravity on cells, Earth observation, and human health management.
Cosmonaut Elena (Елена) Serova. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Three cargo runs arrived at the station during Expedition 42: a SpaceX Dragon and two Roscosmos Progress cargo tugs. The crew were also in orbit during the disastrous Antares launch. The spacecraft delivered the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a new technology using lasers to monitor the Earth's atmosphere. The astronauts also saw the arrival of a newly-installed Electromagnetic Levitator, technology for observing the cooling of liquid metals.
The crew of Expeditions 41/42 are safely back on earth. Image credit: Roscosmos
While Wilmore , Samokutyaev and Serova are heading home, the rest of Expedition 42 remain in orbit. NASA astronaut Terry Virts, ESA astronaut Samantha "Sam" Cristoforetti, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov started Expedition 43 today while they await the arrival of cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko and astronaut Scott Kelly scheduled for March 27th. Their arrival at the station will mark the start of a year-long residency on the station for Kelly and Korniyenko. This is also a NASA twins study: Kelly's twin and former astronaut Mark Kelly will remain on Earth for the duration of the mission.