Three members of the International Space Station's (ISS) Expedition 33 crew safely touched down on the surface of Earth this weekend. They landed just north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, in the first pre-dawn landing in darkness for an ISS crew since Expedition 12 returned in 2006.
Expedition 33 Commander Sunita "Suni" Williams, Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide, and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko spent more than three hours in the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft while descending to Earth. They spent a total of 127 days in space, on a mission that lasted more than four months.
NASA stated that Expedition 33 advanced research by testing radiation levels on the ISS, assessing how microgravity affects the spinal cord, and investigating melting glaciers, seasonal changes, and human impacts on the ecosystem of Earth. The crew members also participated in the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study-Sprint, a program designed to evaluate the use of high-intensity, low-volume exercise training to minimize the loss of muscle, bone, and cardiovascular functions while in microgravity. The first contracted commercial resupply mission by SpaceX was also overseen by the Expedition 33 crew.
Hoshide and Williams performed three spacewalks during their mission to repair ISS equipment. Commander Williams now holds the record for cumulative spacewalk time for a female astronaut, with 50 hours, 40 minutes.
Expedition 34 has now begun on the ISS, and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford has taken command of the space station. He and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin will operate the ISS themselves for one month until the arrival of three new crew members.
(Image courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls)