Expedition 7 Commander Yuri Malenchenko, NASA ISS Science Officer Ed Lu and European Space Agency astronaut Pedro Duque undocked from the Station at 5:17 p.m. today, leaving behind the eighth resident Space Station crew, Commander Michael Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri. Duque flew to the Station with the Expedition 8 crew, launching on October 18.
A formal change of command ceremony between the Expedition 7 and 8 crews occurred this afternoon, just before Malenchenko, Lu and Duque climbed aboard their Soyuz spacecraft for the return trip home. After final farewells, hatches between the Station and the ISS Soyuz 6 were closed at 2:14 p.m. Foale and Kaleri are beginning a planned six-month stay on board the ISS. About three hours later, a command was issued to release latches, with undocking occurring at 5:17 p.m.
A 4-minute, 17-second deorbit burn began at 7:47 p.m. CST. About 8:17 p.m., the orbital and instrumentation/propulsion modules separated from the crew's descent module, the only one of the three modules intended to return to Earth. Minutes later, that module began to feel the effects of the upper atmosphere. About 8:25 p.m. the first of a series of parachutes deployed to slow the module's rate of descent, with six small rocket engines firing just before touchdown to further slow the capsule.
Helicopters with U.S. and Russian ground support personnel retrieved the crew shortly before 9 p.m. CST. NASA officials and flight surgeons reported Malenchenko, Lu and Duque were in excellent condition. Following brief medical exams, the crew will return to Star City, near Moscow, site of the Russian space center where they will be reunited with their families and begin their formal rehabilitation regimen. Malenchenko and Lu are expected to return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston in approximately two weeks.
Video of the crew's arrival will air on NASA Television at 5 a.m. EST Tuesday.