Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Expedition 38 Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy landed in Kazakhstan at 11:24 p.m. EDT. They landed inside the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft ending their mission after five-and-a-half months aboard the International Space Station. The trio undocked from the Poisk module at 8:02 p.m. EDT.
Staying behind are new Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin. The crew members arrived at the station’s Rassvet module Nov. 7 aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. They are scheduled to return home in mid-May. Wakata, a Japanese astronaut, is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s first station commander.
Kotov is completing his third mission aboard the orbital laboratory for a total of 526 days in space. He served as a flight engineer during Expedition 15 in 2007. He then served for six months as an Expedition 22/23 crew member beginning in December 2009.
Hopkins and Ryazanskiy are wrapping up their first space mission each accumulating 166 days in space. During his stay aboard the orbital laboratory, Hopkins conducted a pair of U.S. spacewalks for a total 12 hours and 58 minutes. Ryazanskiy conducted three Russian spacewalks during his mission working outside the station for 20 hours and five minutes.
Hopkins joined NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio for the first pair of Expedition 38 spacewalks installing a new ammonia pump module to restore the station’s cooling system. The U.S. astronauts began the first spacewalk Dec. 21 exiting the Quest airlock to remove and stow a degraded pump module. They completed the installation of the new pump module during a second spacewalk on Dec. 24.
Shortly after those excursions, Ryazanskiy and Kotov exited the Pirs docking compartment Dec. 27 to install photographic gear, route cables, remove completed external experiments and install new scientific gear. The duo went out a second time Jan. 27 to complete the photographic installation work, retrieve more science gear and enable robotic arm operations on the station’s Russian segment.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy’s first spacewalk occurred Nov. 9 when the duo handed off the Olympic torch in its first ever outer space portion of the relay. The torch was returned to Earth the next day and used to light the Olympic flame Feb. 7 at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Kotov has completed six spacewalks over his cosmonaut career accumulating 36 hours and 51 minutes outside the space station in a Russian Orlan spacesuit.
Waiting to replace the returning trio are Expedition 39/40 crew members Steve Swanson, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. They are in Star City, Russia, completing mission training and making final preparations for their March 25 launch aboard a Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
Packed inside the returning Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft was gear, personal items and science. Student investigations launched on Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Orbital 1 mission in January also returned with the crew aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is conducted with the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC under a Space Act agreement. The SSEP offers young scientists the opportunity for the ultimate science fair project: conceiving, designing, implementing and analyzing a real scientific research question in space aboard the International Space Station.
One example of these student investigations is the “L. acidophilus Bacteria Growth in Microgravity” study, proposed by fifth grade students in Hays County, Texas. This was an investigation of lactobacillus bacteria growth in microgravity. This probiotic bacterium, also referred to as “good” bacterium, is important for bone strength and intestinal health in humans. Because of the importance of these bacteria to the human body, this study determines if microgravity has any effect on its growth. This information is beneficial as NASA studies the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body in preparation for future missions to asteroids or to Mars.
Another student investigation proposed by sixth and eighth grade students in Crown Point, Ind., “The Effect of Microgravity on the Development of the Salamander,” looks at the effect of microgravity on the development of a spotted salamander. Gaining knowledge about the developmental impact from microgravity may lead to further exploration of the development of other living organisms, such as humans, in microgravity. When the salamanders return to Earth, they will be observed for any abnormalities and compared to spotted salamanders on Earth.
Findings from the 23 investigations that launched on Jan. 9 to the space station will be presented at a July 2014 SSEP annual conference.