Expedition 39 officially began Monday at 8:02 p.m. EDT when Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy undocked from the International Space Station.
The trio was inside the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft when it gently backed away from the Poisk module for its return to Earth. They landed in frigid conditions in Kazakhstan at 11:24 p.m. and were assisted by a smaller recovery team due to snowy, windy conditions at the landing site.
Packed inside their returning 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.
Staying behind on the space station is Japan’s first commander Koichi Wakata with veteran cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio. They have been residing on the orbital laboratory since November and are expected to complete their mission in May.
The station crew had an off-duty Tuesday relaxing after Monday’s hatch closing and undocking activities. Their schedule was cleared since the crew stayed up several hours past their normal bed time monitoring the departure of their Expedition 38 crewmates.
Waiting to join Expedition 39 are crew members Steve Swanson, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. They are finalizing mission preparations in Star City, Russia, for their launch on March 25 aboard a Soyuz TMA-12M vehicle.