Skip to main content

After 143 days in space, astronauts set to return

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NASA: The trip back to Earth should take less than three and a half hours
  • One American and two Russians will land just before midnight
  • Russian Soyuz space modules have proven very reliable
  • It is the standard transportation mode to the ISS after a deadly space shuttle crash

(CNN) -- Nearly five months of cramped living in zero gravity will come to an end Thursday for one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.

Their Soyuz capsule is set to undock at 8:30 p.m. ET, and land less than three and a half hours later in Kazakhstan.

Soyuz modules are vital to the Russian space program.

They are launched into space as capsules atop a rocket, and are capable of landing on land, not requiring a body of water to splash down in.

Kevin Ford on space mission with Russia
Three return from space station

A Soyuz carried the first ever crew to the ISS in November 2000, according to NASA. One is docked there at all times, in case the crew needs to leave in an emergency.

It became the standard mode of transportation to the station after the deadly 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident.

The modern version, the Soyuz TMA, is made of three parts. Two of them jettison then burn upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA. Only the Descent Module will land on Earth, carrying Commander Kevin Ford of NASA, Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Russian Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin.

NASA TV will broadcast the undocking and landing live.

The undocking of the Soyuz will mark the beginning of the 35th ISS mission, which awaits the arrival of two more Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut in two weeks.

The journey up to the station takes longer than the return trip to Earth, NASA said. The Soyuz needs a total of two days to catch up with the ISS in its orbit.

More space and science news on CNN's Light Years blog

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
updated 9:22 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT