ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli is now half way into his six-month mission on the International Space Station. Monday’s handover of command heralds the departure of three crewmembers and the arrival of a new trio in the coming weeks.
Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly handed over command of the Station to cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev during a ceremony yesterday evening.
Kelly, Soyuz commander Alexander Kaleri and Russian flight engineer Oleg Skripochka will close the hatch and depart in their Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft at 06:00 CET on Wednesday, 16 March.
The three Expedition 26 astronauts aim to land in northern Kazakhstan near the town of Arkalyk at 08:48 CET later that day.
The Expedition 27 crew of Paolo, new commander Dmitry Kondratyev and astronaut Cady Coleman will welcome fresh crewmembers in early April: Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko, and NASA flight engineer Ron Garan.
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency announced today that the launch of the new trio has been delayed from 30 March owing to technical checks required on their Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft.
They will remain aboard the Station for about six months as Expedition 28.
Busy beginning for 2011
The last two months have been historic for the Space Station. The Space Shuttles are making their last visits and there have never been so many craft docked with the orbital complex.
Japan’s HTV-2 freighter began the sequence in January, before Russia’s Progress M-09M docked on 20 January. ESA’s ATV-2 roared into space atop an Ariane 5 on 16 February, docking majestically eight days later.
The latest visitor was Shuttle Discovery, leaving behind the European-built Leonardo module as a multipurpose storeroom.
The next Shuttle, targeted for launch on 19 April, will deliver the massive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Also aboard is another Italian astronaut, ESA’s Roberto Vittori.
Paolo’s three months in space
Paolo Nespoli has now been in space for 89 days – midway through his MagISStra mission.
His duties include ISS flight engineer, conducting more than 30 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations, performing educational activities, participating in public relations events – and using much of his free time photographing Earth and tweeting.
Paolo’s Expedition 27 will return to Earth at the end of May and Expedition 29 (Sergei Volkov, Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa) will complete the crew in early June.
After Paolo and Roberto, the next European on the Station will be ESA’s Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers in December.