Dismal weather prompts 24-hour delay for Soyuz landing

Editor's note...
  • Posted at 12:15 AM EDT, 03/14/13: Soyuz crew prepares for entry, weather permitting
  • Updated at 05:50 PM EDT, 03/14/13: Dismal weather prompts 24-hour delay for Soyuz landing
CBS News

Dismal weather in Kazakhstan forced Russian flight controllers to order a one-day landing delay for two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut who are closing out a nearly five-month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Soyuz TMA-06M commander Oleg Novitskiy, flight engineer Evgeny Tarelkin and outgoing station commander Kevin Ford had planned to undock from the station's Russian Poisk module at 8:30 p.m. EDT (GMT-4), setting up a touchdown near Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, just after 11:56 p.m. (9:56 a.m. March 15 local time).

But around 5 p.m., just a few minutes before the trio was to have floated into the Soyuz and closed hatches in preparation for undocking, Russian flight controllers told them to stand down.

"Station, (this is) Moscow," radioed Vladimir Solovyov, the chief Russian flight director. Speaking through a translator, he told the crew "the weather has not improved yet, and I talked to our colleagues in Kazakhstan last night and the weather was really horrible. ... We suggest that we delay the landing."

"I understand," Novitskiy replied. "So the landing will be one day later?"

"Yes. So please stop all of your preparation activities and resume them tomorrow."

The concern was low clouds and freezing rain and snow at the landing site that could have posed problems for recovery crews flying in by helicopter.

Assuming the weather cooperates Friday -- and forecasters expected conditions to improve overnight -- Novitskiy and his crewmates will board the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft and close its hatch around 4:25 p.m. Undocking is targeted for 7:43 p.m., setting up a landing around 11:06 p.m.

The trio blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 23. Assuming an on-time landing, Novitskiy and Tarelkin will have logged 144 days off planet during their first spaceflight. Ford's time aloft will stand at 158 days, including two weeks aboard the shuttle Discovery in 2009.

With the departure of the Soyuz TMA-06M crew, the station will be in the hands of Expedition 35 commander Chris Hadfield and his crewmates, Roman Romanenko and Thomas Marshburn.

Hadfield, a veteran of two space shuttle flights, is the first Canadian astronaut to command a spacecraft.

During a brief change-of-command ceremony Wednesday, Expedition 34 commander Ford played "O Canada" from a laptop computer and officially turned the lab complex over to Hadfield.

"We're very proud of Chris," Ford said. "We are very proud of Canada as our partner in this International Space Station. We are really proud most of all that the space station is such a fantastic example of international cooperation."

Hadfield said commanding the station is a "huge honor and a privilege to me but also for all the people at the Canadian Space Agency... and for my entire country."

"So, for the International Space Station program, all the international partners, thank you very much for giving me the keys to the family car," he said. "We're going to put some miles on it, but we'll bring it back in good shape."