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Space Station Crew Returning to Earth After Delay

Astronaut Cristoforetti on the International Space Station
An extra month in orbit gave the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman to Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti.
(Image: © ESA/NASA)

Three crewmembers who have been aboard the International Space Station for an extended, 6.5-month mission will be heading home on Thursday, with no launch date set for their replacements.

Station commander Terry Virts with NASA, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and the Italian Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti had been slated to fly back to Earth on May 13. The trio launched aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule on Nov. 24, 2014.

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The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and its partners in the station program delayed the crew's homecoming and the launch of their replacements while engineers investigated why a Russian Progress cargo ship, flying on a different version of the Soyuz rocket used to launch crew, failed shortly after reaching orbit on April 28.

Russia wants to fly another cargo ship before committing the rocket to carry a passenger capsule. The cargo ship is expected to fly in early July and the next station crew launch set for late July.

The present crew's return was delayed a month to minimize the time that the station would be left with half a crew.

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As it stands, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who will be taking over as commander, will be on their own for about six weeks. Kelly and Kornienko are making the station's first year-long increment. Padalka is due to fly home in September.

Virts, Shkaplerov and Cristoforetti, can't stay in space much longer because the Soyuz capsule that will ferry them home is nearing the end of its on-orbit, six-month design life.

The extended mission lands Cristoforetti in the record books with the single longest spaceflight by a woman. With her departure set for Thursday after 199 days in space, Cristoforetti will eclipse U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams' 195-day record, set in 2007.

This article was provided by Discovery News.

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