Three astronauts have returned safely to Earth after 127 days in space on the International Space Station.
Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA and two colleagues landed yesterday in the pre-dawn dark of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan at 7:56 p.m. (7:56 a.m., Kazakhstan time). The astronauts looked relaxed and happy, despite the freezing 12oF (-11oC) conditions as they were checked over by a medical team.
Sunita Williams, flight engineer Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko arrived at the space station on July 21 2012. The trio spent a total of 127 days there, orbiting Earth 2,032 times and travelling approximately 54,090,628 miles.
The main aim of the expedition was to advance the amount of scientific research being conducted at the space station. The astronauts took part in a wide range of scientific activities including assessing the impacts of exercise on the human body in space, Earth observations and testing new technologies. For example, they looked at how microgravity affects the spinal cord, and investigated how dynamic processes on Earth, such as melting glaciers, seasonal changes and human activity, impacts on the ecosystem.
The team also had to deal with a number of challenges that arose during their time in space. On 1 November, Williams and Hoshide took part in a gruelling 6 hours and 38 minute spacewalk to fix an ammonia leak linked to one of the station’s solar panels. The fix is currently being monitored by mission control to see if it has been successful or if the part has to be replaced on a future space walk. The ISS also lost some communication with the ground for a short while after a cable was broken in Russia.
Williams, who spent some of her time blogging and tweeting from the space station under the name @Astro_Suni, has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions. Her spacewalk to fix the ammonia leak earned her the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut: 50 hours and 40 minutes.
Expedition 33 ended when Williams’s crew left the space station in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft. The International Space Station is now under the command of NASA astronaut Kevin Ford.