MOSCOW, September 14 (Itar-Tass) — The command of the International Space Station (ISS) overnight to Thursday is expected to be changes: after a six-month “ruling” the Russians will hand over the command to the Americans.
The Mission Control Centre (MCC) outside Moscow reported on Wednesday that “at 01:40 MSK on September 15, Andrei Borisenko will hand over “the reins of power” at the station to his colleague - NASA astronaut Michael Fossum.” The latter will be in command of the station’s crew until his return to Earth that is scheduled for mid-November. However, due to the recent crash of the Soyuz launch vehicle with the cargo spaceship Progress, the launch schedule was revised, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) has not officially confirmed so far the date of landing, so it is possible that Fossum will be “in charge” longer than planned. Together with him, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and astronaut of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA Satoshi Furukawa will keep the station humming.
For the current commander of ISS Expedition 28 the five-month orbital mission ends on September 16: the Soyuz TMA-21 ship’s return to Earth with three astronauts on board is scheduled for this day. In addition to Borisenko, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyayev NASA astronaut Ronald Garan will return to Earth.
The process of the command transfer at the station is a formal ceremony of signing by the two commanders of the relevant documents, which takes about 15 minutes, the MCC said. The expedition’s number is simultaneously changed - in this case from 28 to 29. The ISS crew marks the transfer of command functions by ringing a bell that is located in the US segment of the station.
However, before signing the official documents, the crew will hold another “ceremony.” In the afternoon, Borisenko who is returning to Earth and Volkov who remains on the station will sign an act on the shift changeover in the Russian segment.
For Borisenko, Samokutyayev and Garan who are returning to Earth Wednesday is the final day in orbit. The astronauts are packing their “luggage” on the spaceship and cases with the results of biotechnological experiments, and the commander makes the last check of the station’s sanitary-epidemiological state.
On Thursday, September 15, the crew will rest until the evening, and then will be engaged in operations to prepare the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft for landing.
Last week, Borisenko, Samokutyayev and Garan conducted a two-hour training session of the Soyuz TMA-21 spaceship descent, spokesman for the Mission Control Centre outside Moscow Valery Lyndin told Itar-Tass earlier. The Soyuz TMA-21 landing is scheduled in Kazakh steppe for the morning of September 16.
During the training the astronauts partly demothballed the Soyuz spacecraft and then, without giving commands, drilled on the ship’s control panel all the details of the undocking, descent and landing in an automatic mode. In addition, they refreshed in memory the manual control skills, in case the automatic equipment fails during landing.
After in May 2003 the Soyuz TMA-1 with the sixth ISS crew broke into a ballistic descent and landed 460 km from the planned area, all astronauts preparing to return to Earth must rehearse in orbit their actions in such a situation.
After the training Borisenko engaged in the station’s maintenance and Samokutyayev was packing the removed equipment to the Progress M-10M cargo spacecraft. Sergei Volkov was implementing the flight research program. After the daily watering of plants in the “orbital garden” he took photographs and made video records within an experiment to monitor natural disasters (Hurricane) and then took microbiological samples from the surfaces of the Russian segment of the station.
The ISS is an internationally developed research facility that is being assembled in low Earth orbit. The objective of the ISS, as defined by NASA, is to develop and test technologies for exploration spacecraft systems, develop techniques to maintain crew health and performance on missions beyond low Earth orbit, and gain operational experience that can be applied to exploration missions. The objective of the ISS is a continuation of the “permanent human presence in low-Earth orbit,” according to the Russian space agency.
On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion by mid-2012. The station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2015, and likely 2028. With a greater cross-sectional area than that of any previous space station, the ISS can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The ISS is by far the largest artificial satellite that has ever orbited Earth. The ISS serves as a research laboratory that has a microgravity environment in which crews conduct experiments in biology, chemistry, medicine, physiology and physics, as well as astronomical and meteorological observations.
The ISS is a long-term platform in the space environment where extended studies are conducted. The presence of a permanent crew affords the ability to monitor, replenish, repair, and replace experiments and components of the spacecraft itself. The ISS provides a platform to conduct experiments that require one or more of the unusual conditions present on the station. The primary fields of research include human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. Scientists on Earth have access to the crew's data and can modify experiments or launch new ones; benefits generally unavailable on unmanned spacecraft. Crews fly expeditions of several months duration, providing approximately 160 man-hours a week of labour with a crew of six.