CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (Florida Today) --A Russian, an American and aCanadian are safely back on Earth today after a blazing atmosphericreentry that wrapped up a five-month expedition to the InternationalSpace Station.
Superhot plasma gassesenveloped their Soyuz spacecraft as Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko,U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian SpaceAgency made a fiery plunge toward a landing zone on the central steppesof Kazakhstan.
Russiansearch-and-rescue forces flew helicopters in racetrack ovals above thezone as the crew prepared to deploy parachutes at about an altitude ofseven miles.
The crew had just come through maximum aerodynamic forces, and Romanenko reported to Russian Mission Control in Moscow.
"We feel good," he said. "Everything is normal. Proceeding with descent."
Livecamera views from the helicopters showed the spacecraft droppingthrough clear blue skies. It was morning in Kazakhstan. Six soft-landingengines fired two seconds before the spacecraft hit ground to cushionthe jarring 10:31 p.m. EDT touchdown Monday.
Theatmospheric reentry began 2 hours, 20 minutes after Romanenko,Marshburn and Hadfield departed the International Space Station. TheSoyuz was 7.5 miles from the outpost at the time.
A 4 minute, 45-second retrograde engine firing slowed the Soyuz capsule by 420 feet per second, dropping it out of orbit.
Romanenko,Marshburn and Hadfield launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstanin December. The three men spent 146 days in space; 144 of them on thespace station.
Thedeparture from the station came two days after Marshburn and U.S.astronaut Chris Cassidy performed an impromptu spacewalk to halt a leakof toxic ammonia coolant at the outpost. The two replaced a 260-poundcoolant pump with a spare.
Vinogradovtook the helm of the station during a change-of-command on Sunday.Cassidy and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin remain onboard theoutpost. They launched in March.
Areturn to full staffing is scheduled later this month with the arrivalof another three-member crew: Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, U.S.astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of theEuropean Space Agency.
Thespace station has been continuously staffed since its first crew openedthe outpost, still under construction, in November 2000. Assembly ofthe U.S. segment of the station was completed in 2011 and the outpost isexpected to operate through at least 2020.
AnAtlas V rocket is scheduled to roll out to its launch pad today inadvance of the planned Wednesday evening launch of an advanced GPSnavigation satellite. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 at CapeCanaveral Air Force Station is slated for 5:38 p.m. Wednesday.
Thelaunch window will extend through 5:56 p.m. The 19-story Atlas V willcarry the fourth in a series of new-generation Air Force GlobalPositioning System satellites. Air Force meteorologists say there is an80 percent chance conditions will be acceptable for launch.
The primeconcern is a chance of low-level clouds that could block the view ofrange safety officers during the critical, early part of the flight.