Russian Commander Yuri Gidzenko, Flight Engineer Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency and South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth undocked their Soyuz TM-33 craft from the Pirs Docking Compartment of the ISS at 7:31 p.m. Central time (00:31 GMT May 5) over China after eight days of joint activities with Expedition Four Commander Yury Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Carl Walz and Dan Bursch.
Left behind on the nadir docking port of the Zarya module of the ISS is a new Soyuz TM-34 return craft, in which Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth were launched on April 25 and which they guided to a docking to the ISS last Saturday. The older Soyuz arrived at the station last October. Fresh Soyuz spacecraft are brought to the station every six months to serve as an emergency return vehicle in the event a problem forces station residents to leave the complex prematurely.
After backing the older Soyuz away from the Pirs docking port, Gidzenko fired the Soyuz' thrusters to begin a separation maneuver away from the station. Later this evening, Gidzenko will conduct a four-minute deorbit burn of the Soyuz engines to begin the capsule's descent back to Earth.
Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth are scheduled to land on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 10:52 p.m. Central time (352 GMT May 5) to wrap up their mission.
Gidzenko, who is completing his third flight into space, was the first former resident of the ISS to return to the complex, having been a member of the Expedition One crew, the first crew to live aboard the station.
Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth spent most of their time on the station conducting experiments and educational activities.
All systems aboard the ISS continue to function well as the station orbits at an average altitude of about 245 statute miles.