The International Space Station has a new commander as three Expedition 67 crewmates are less than a day away from returning to Earth. Most of the crew is sleep-shifting today to prepare for Thursday morning’s crew departure as the rest of the station’s astronauts focused on lab maintenance during Wednesday.
Three cosmonauts are set to board their Soyuz MS-21 crew ship and undock from the Prichal module at 3:34 a.m. EDT Thursday. Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev, flanked by Flight Engineers Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, will then soar through Earth’s atmosphere and parachute inside the Soyuz vehicle to a landing in Kazakhstan at 6:57 a.m. (4:57 p.m. Kazakh time) ending a six-month mission that began on March 18. Live undocking coverage begins at 3:15 a.m. on NASA TV, the agency’s app and its website.
The homebound trio will be assisted overnight by the station’s newest cosmonauts, Flight Engineers Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, during the crew farewell and hatch closing activities. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will also be on hand monitoring station systems as the Soyuz crew ship departs for Earth.
Cristoforetti, earlier Wednesday, accepted station command responsibilities from Artemyev as the rest of the station crew gathered for the traditional Change of Command ceremony. She will lead the station crew until her departure, planned for October, with fellow SpaceX Dragon Freedom crewmates Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins. The Commercial Crew quartet docked the Freedom spacecraft to the space-facing port on the station’s Harmony module on April 27.
Meanwhile, as the cosmonauts turned their attention to Thursday’s Soyuz undocking, the four NASA astronauts aboard the station maintained their normal work schedules. Flight Engineers Frank Rubio and Kjell Lindgren partnered together on Wednesday for orbital plumbing duties. Flight Engineer Bob Hines rerouted cables inside the Tranquility module as Flight Engineer Jessica Watkins cleaned fans and sensors inside the Harmony module’s crew quarters. The four crewmates later prepared for October’s launch of the SpaceX Crew-5 mission and the return to Earth of Lindgren and his crewmates.
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