CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - Two Russian cosmonauts and Malaysia?s first spaceflyer willreturn to Earth early Sunday to complete their respective missions to theInternational Space Station (ISS).
After sixmonths in Earth orbit, veteran cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov aredue to land their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft on the CentralAsian steppes of Kazakhstan to end their Expedition 15 mission to the orbitallaboratory.
?We wouldlike to stay, but with the arrival of a new crew we do have to make room for them,?Yurchikhin, Expedition 15 commander, told reporters this week, adding that he?slooking forward to seeing his loved ones again.
Yurchikhinand Kotov, an Expedition 15 flight engineer, are wrapping up a busyspaceflight that has seen three visiting NASA space shuttle crews to continueISS construction. On Friday, they handed control of the space station over to Expedition16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first female astronaut to lead an ISSmission.
?It?s beena very impressive mission and you guys have performed exceptionally,? Whitsontold the Expedition 15 crew.
Returningto Earth with Yurchikhin and Kotov is Malaysian astronaut SheikhMuszaphar Shukor, who is completing an 11-day flight to the space station. Heconducted a series of science experiments and shared Malaysian space food withthis ISS hosts. Whitson said the Malaysian dried mango dish was a particularhit.
?I?m happythat they liked the food and found it very tasty,? Shukor, an orthopedicsurgeon chosen from 11,000 applicants to become his nation?s first astronaut,told reporters earlier this week. ?I love the crew because I really feel athome here.?
Shukor launchedto the ISS on Oct. 10 with Whitson and Expedition flight engineer YuriMalenchenko as part of a commercial agreement between the Malaysian governmentand Russia for Russian-built military jets. He will land with the Expedition 15crew while Whitson, Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson - who originallyarrived at the ISS in June as part of its Expedition 15 crew - stay aboard aspart of Expedition 16.
Anderson will return to Earth once his replacement- NASA astronaut Daniel Tani - arrives aboard NASA?sshuttle Discovery next week.
?On Sunday,I will be losing great friends, but during my time on station I found brothers,? Anderson told his Expedition 15 crewmates Friday. ?Thank you very much.?
Shukor andthe Expedition 15 crew are slated to cast off from the ISS at 3:14 a.m. EDT (0714GMT) Sunday and fire their Soyuz spacecraft?s engines at 5:47 a.m. EDT (0947GMT) to make a planned 6:37 a.m. EDT (1037 GMT) landing on the Kazakh steppe.
Their spacestation departure will set the stage for a busy few weeks aboard the ISS,beginning with the planned Tuesday launch of NASA?s shuttle Discovery todeliver a vital connecting node to the orbital node. The 14-day constructionflight will lay the foundation for future international laboratories at theISS.
NASAwill broadcast the undocking and landing activities of Shukor and theExpedition 15 crew live on NASA TV beginning at 11:45 p.m. EDT tonight (0345Oct. 21 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com?s ISS mission updatesand landing coverage.
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