Soyuz Carrying Record-Breaking U.S. Astronaut, Russian, Korean, Has Fast, Rough, Off-Target ‘Ballistic’ Reentry
Peggy Whitson, Space Station Expedition 16 Commander, Breaks Record For Cumulative Time In Space For Any U.S. Astronaut, Male Or Female, With 377 Days Aloft
Russian Cosmonauts Still Hold World-Wide Records
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft experienced extreme deceleration forces and landed 295 miles from its target landing site on the steppes of Kazakhstan, while carrying American Astronaut Peggy Whitson as she broke the cumulative-time-in-space record for any U.S. astronaut, male or female.
Whitson, 48, also was the first female commander of the International Space Station (ISS), on Expedition 16 (its 16th crew), and during her stay aloft performed five spacewalks for a total of six extravehicular activities in her career as an astronaut. Her total 39 hours, 46 minutes is the most of any woman.
It was the second time that a Soyuz has had problems that caused it to streak down in a ballistic path, and landed far from the intended touchdown area.
Because the Soyuz Saturday hit almost 300 miles from its expected return site, recovery forces were 45 minutes late in reaching the spacecraft.
Whitson and her two fellow passengers were uninjured in the rapid descent and landing, authorities said, but there were news reports of an observer claiming that the Soyuz parachutes caught fire in the rapid descent.
Thus far in her career, Whitson has accumulated a total 377 days in space on two flights, 192 of those days on the Expedition 16 mission, ranking her 20th worldwide in zero- gravity time.
She broke the previous U.S. record for time in space set by astronaut Mike Foale, who spent 374 days aloft.
In an earlier trip to the space station, Whitson served almost 185 days as a flight engineer on the Expedition 5 crew, which launched June 5, 2002, and returned to Earth Dec. 7, 2002.
With her on the spaceship was Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko, who has rolled up a cumulative 515 days in space spread over four flights, 9th in world-wide longevity, also including 192 days on the Expedition 16 mission.
She and Malenchenko launched to the station Oct. 10.
Malenchenko, 46, a Russian Air Force colonel, completed his third long-duration spaceflight with the rapid Soyuz landing. He spent 126 days aboard the Russian space station Mir in 1994, and later commanded the Expedition 7 crew on the ISS, spending 185 days in space in 2006. He also was a member of the STS-106 crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis on a 12-day mission to the station in 2000.
In spacewalks, Whitson now ranks 16th worldwide of all astronauts, male or female.
The third passenger on the Soyuz was South Korean participant So-yeon Yi, a bioengineer, who rode up to the space station on a Soyuz earlier this month.
During their Expedition 16 mission to the ISS, Whitson and Malenchenko were space station crew members while the station saw a gigantic growth spurt.
U.S. space shuttles hauled enormous structural components to orbit, where they were attached to the station. Those included the European Columbus laboratory, and the beginnings of the Japanese Kibo laboratory.
Further, the Expedition 16 crew worked with experiments across a wide variety of fields, including human life sciences, physical sciences and Earth observation. Many of the experiments are designed to gather information about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, which will help with planning future exploration missions to the moon and Mars.
Before undocking, Whitson and Malenchenko bid farewell to the new station crew, Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Garrett Reisman. Volkov and Konenko launched to the station April 8. They were accompanied by Yi who flew under a commercial contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency.
Reisman came to the station aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-123 mission, which launched March 11.
Reisman will continue his stay onboard the orbiting laboratory with Volkov and Kononenko.
Generally, the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, with a basic design that is decades old, has been a reliable workhorse dating back to the former Soviet Union.
Beginning in 2010, when the United States retires its space shuttle fleet, the Soyuz may become the main or only craft transporting U.S. astronauts to space, under a big-ticket contract with the Russians to be executed this year or early next year.
NASA won’t have even a rudimentary space travel vehicle until the next-generation Orion-Ares space capsule and rocket begin manned missions in 2015.