Friday, June 14, 2024
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Sunita Williams, two astronauts return to Earth

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Houston: Record-setting Indian- American astronaut Sunita Williams along with two fellow cosmonauts safely returned to Earth on Monday from the ISS, touching down on the steppes of Kazakhstan, after spending four months in orbit. Williams, who commanded the International Space Station’s Expedition 33 mission, and two astronauts, Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide, touched down in the dark, chilly expanses in the town of Arkalyk on board the Russian Soyuz capsule at 0726 IST.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during the landing commentary, “The crew is home.” Williams, 47, Russian cosmonaut Malenchenko and Japanese astronaut Hoshide sported broad smiles after being extracted from their capsule. They sat in reclining seats under thick blankets to stay warm in the frigid cold before being moved to a inflatable medical tent for post-landing checks.

The crew’s physical condition was “normal” after the landing, a mission control spokesman was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying. Some of the Soyuz’s landing activities occurred a few seconds late, causing it to overshoot its landing site, but Russian recovery teams were able to compensate for the change during the descent, Navias said.

The return of Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko wrapped up a 127-day space journey, including 125 days spent aboard the ISS, since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15 this year.

Williams, now has spent a total of 322 days in space during her two long-duration missions. She previously served aboard the ISS as an Expedition 14/15 flight engineer from December 9, 2006, to June 22, 2007. That makes her the second most experienced female astronaut in history, behind NASA’s Peggy Whitson (who spent 377 days in space during two station flights). Williams now also holds the record for spacewalking time for female astronauts.

Williams has a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalking time over seven spacewalks, including the three she conducted during Expeditions 32 and 33. Williams became the second female commander of the station when she took charge earlier this year.

Weather at the landing site was overcast and freezing, with temperatures of 12 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11 degrees Celsius), though it felt like 0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 degrees Celsius) with the wind, Navias said. The Soyuz capsule landed on its side, a common configuration, and recovery teams worked quickly to retrieve the astronauts due to the cold weather.

Three astronauts remain on board the ISS and will return next year. (PTI)

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