Weather Delays Space Station Crew's Landing

Weather Delays Space Station Crew's Landing
The Expedition 14 and Expedtioon 15 crews aboard the International Space Station share warm embraces during a traditional change of command ceremony aboard the outpost on April 17, 2007. From left to right: Expedition 14 flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Expedition 15 flight engineers Sunita Williams and Oleg Kotov (partially obscured).
(Image: © NASA TV.)

Twoastronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) turned control of theorbital laboratory over to their replacements Tuesday. But the spaceflyers willspend one extra day in orbit after heavy rains flooded their landing site,according to Russian news reports.

ISSExpedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, flight engineer Mikhail Tyurinand U.S.space tourist Charles Simonyi are now slated to land Saturday -- one daylater than planned -- Russia's Interfax News Agency reported Tuesday.

"The areaof Arkalyk is flooded due to heavy rainfall," Igor Panarin, a spokesperson for Russia's Federal Space Agency, was quoted by Interfax as saying. "This couldcomplicate the arrival of search vehicles in the landing zone. Therefore it wasdecided to land the spacecraft further to the south in the area of Jezkazgan."

NASAofficials said that the Expedition 14 crew's alternate landing area isnortheast of Arkalyk, but southeast of the typical touchdown point for Soyuzspacecraft.

Lopez-Alegriaand Tyurin are concluding a seven-month mission to the ISS that began withthe September 2006 launch of their Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft. They are due to landwith Simonyi -- the fifth space tourist to visit the space station -- on April21 at about 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT).

Simonyi,58, is paying between $20 million and $25 million for a 13-day spaceflightunder an agreement between the Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firmSpace Adventures. A former Microsoft software developer with a lifelonginterest in human spaceflight, Simonyi is documenting his spaceflight via his Website: www.charlesinspace.com.

On Tuesday,the Expedition 14 crew turned over control of the ISS to Expedition 15commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineers Oleg Kotov and SunitaWilliams during a traditional ceremony that included ringing the ship'sbell inside the station's U.S. Destiny laboratory.

"Fyodor, it'swith a lot of envy and a lot of congratulations that I relinquish the good shipAlpha," said Lopez-Alegria, who, like Williams, is a U.S. Navy officer, usingthe station's official call sign.

Williams,who served as a member of the Expedition 14 crew, is staying on for part of theExpedition 15 mission and is due to return to Earth aboard a NASA space shuttlelater this summer.

"We loveour station, and we think the Expedition 15 crew will feel the same at the veryend of their mission," Tyurin said during the change of command ceremony.

While Lopez-Alegriaand Tyurin will have to wait one more day for their return to Earth, thelanding delay does give Simonyi yet another extra day in space. Simonyi wasinitially prepared for an 11-day trek to the ISS -- the typical duration of astation crew swap -- though Russianmission managers extended the flight two extra days to ensure the SoyuzTMA-9 lands during daylight.

Simonyisaid he had already heard that he was getting one more extra day in space.

"That'sgreat news," he said in an audio message posted to his Web site Tuesday.

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