Expedition 46 Trio Leaves Station for Ride to Earth

Soyuz TMA-18M Undocks
The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft undocks carrying Expedition 46 crew members Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov. Credit: NASA TV

Astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov undocked from the station at 8:02 p.m. EST to begin their voyage home. Volkov, the Soyuz commander, is at the controls of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft.

They will perform a separation burn to increase the distance from the station before executing a 4-minute, 49-second deorbit burn at 10:32 p.m. The crew is scheduled to land at 11:25 p.m. southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

All three crew will participate in Field Tests immediately after landing. Scott Kelly will conduct Functional Task Tests once he is back at NASA’s Johnson Space Center which will assess how the human body responds to living in microgravity for such a long time. Understanding how astronauts recover after long-duration spaceflight is a critical piece in planning for missions to deep space.

The Expedition 47 crew members, Commander Tim Kopra of NASA, Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos, and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will continue research and maintenance aboard the station and will be joined March 18 by three additional crew members, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skriprochka and Alexey Ovchinin.

NASA Television will air live coverage of the Soyuz TMA-18M deorbit burn and landing beginning at 10:15 p.m.

Here is the timeline for Expedition 46’s landing:

Tuesday, March 1

EST                            EVENT

10:15 p.m.                 NASA TV: Expedition 46 Soyuz TMA-18M deorbit burn and landing coverage

10:32 p.m.                  Soyuz TMA-18M deorbit burn (4 minutes, 49 seconds duration)

10:37 p.m.                  Soyuz deorbit burn complete

10:59 p.m.                  Soyuz module separation (altitude 87 miles)

11:02 p.m.                  Soyuz atmospheric entry (altitude 62 miles)

11:10 p.m.                  Command to open parachute (6.6 miles)

11:25 p.m.                 Expedition 46 Soyuz TMA-18M landing southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan

Final Full Day in Orbit for Volkov and Year In Space Crew

Orbiting Earth at Night
Day 325. Set your sails for the #stars! #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace. Credit: https://twitter.com/StationCDRKelly/status/699380052312477696

International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Mikhail Kornienko, who have been living in space since March of last year, are spending their last full day in orbit today. The duo are returning home Tuesday evening with Soyuz Commander Sergey Volkov who will lead the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft back to Earth.

Kelly will hand over command of the orbital laboratory to NASA astronaut Tim Kopra in a ceremony today at 3:10 p.m. EST/8:10 p.m. UTC live on NASA Television. When the Soyuz spacecraft undocks Tuesday, Expedition 47 will officially begin with Flight Engineers Tim Peake and Yuri Malenchenko staying behind with Kopra.

While the homebound trio is wrapping up its mission, the three remaining crewmates will stay in orbit till June and continue their science and maintenance activities. Today, Peake worked inside Japan’s Kibo lab module preparing to increase its stowage capacity. Kopra explored new space exercise techniques to minimize bone and muscle loss during long-term missions. Malenchenko checked on Soyuz communications and worked on several Russian science experiments.

Tune in to NASA TV Tuesday beginning at 4:15 p.m. to watch the live Soyuz crew departure and landing activities. Kelly and Kornienko will have accumulated 340 days in space while Volkov will have been orbiting 182 days when they land Tuesday at 11:25 p.m.