A Soyuz space capsule carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts landed over the weekend on the foggy steppes of Kazakhstan, safely returning the three men to Earth after a 144-day mission to the International Space Station.
NASA’s Kevin Ford and Russians Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin had been scheduled to return on Friday, but the landing was postponed by a day because of bad weather.
Live footage on NASA TV showed all three men smiling as they were helped out of the capsule and into reclining chairs to begin their acclimatization to Earth’s gravity after nearly five months in space.
A NASA TV commentator said only two of 12 search and rescue helicopters were allowed to land at the touchdown site because of heavy clouds and fog. So instead of being placed in an inflatable medical tent for checks, the astronauts were taken fairly quickly to one of the helicopters. The temperature at the time was well below freezing.
The crew was then flown to Kostanai, the staging site in Kazakhstan, where they posed for more photographs. Ford put on a traditional felt Kazakh hat and draped a matching coat over his flight suit, while holding up a matryoshka nesting doll of himself —- all souvenirs of the mission that began and ended in the Central Asian country.
The three men blasted off on Oct. 23 from the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan.
Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Russian space agency, described the crew as “giving off good vibes, that they are a united and friendly team,” the Interfax news agency reported.
Space officials said Ford would be flown to Houston, while the Russians would return to the space training facility outside Moscow.
Their return voyage to Earth began with the Russian-made capsule undocking from the space station and beginning its slow drift away. The craft made a “flawless entry” back into the Earth’s atmosphere, descended through heavy cloud cover and landed perfectly in an upright position, the NASA commentator said.
Three other astronauts -— from Russia, the U.S. and Canada -— remain at the space station. The next three-man crew -— two Russians and an American -— is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome on March 29.
Reported by LYNN BERRY of the Associated Press from MOSCOW, Russia.
Space used to be a man’s world. Then came Sally Ride, who blazed a cosmic trail into orbit for U.S. women. With a pitch perfect name out of a pop song refrain, she joined the select club of American space heroes the public knew by heart: Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong and Aldrin.
Ride, the first American woman in orbit, died Monday at her home in the San Diego community of La Jolla at age 61 of pancreatic cancer, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.Read More
Through the winding hallways deep inside an old building that used in the early years of U.S. space travel, a group of scientists in white coats is stirring, mixing, measuring, brushing and, most important, tasting the end result of their cooking.
Their mission: Build a menu for a planned journey to Mars in the 2030s.
The menu must sustain a group of six to eight astronauts, keep them healthy and happy and also offer a broad array of food. That’s no simple feat considering it will likely take six months to get to the Red Planet, astronauts will have to stay there 18 months and then it will take another six months to return to Earth. Imagine having to shop for a family’s three-year supply of groceries all at once and having enough meals planned in advance for that length of time.
“Mars is different just because it’s so far away,” said Maya Cooper, senior research scientist with Lockheed Martin who is leading the efforts to build the menu. “We don’t have the option to send a vehicle every six months and send more food as we do for International Space Station.”
Astronauts who travel to the space station have a wide variety of food available to them, some 100 or so different options, in fact. But it is all pre-prepared and freeze-dried with a shelf life of at least two years. And while astronauts make up a panel that tastes the food and gives it a final OK on Earth before it blasts off, the lack of gravity means smell — and taste — is impaired. So the food is bland.
On Mars though, there is a little gravity, allowing NASA to consider significant changes to the current space menu. That’s where Cooper’s team comes in. Travel to Mars opens the possibility that astronauts can do things like chop vegetables and do a little cooking of their own. Even though pressure levels are different than on Earth, scientists think it will be possible to boil water with a pressure cooker, too.
Greenhouse on Mars: One option Cooper and her staff in the Johnson Space Center in Houston are considering is having the astronauts care for a “Martian greenhouse.” They would have a variety of fruits and vegetables — from carrots to bell peppers — in a hydroponic solution, meaning they would be planted in mineral-laced water instead of soil. The astronauts would care for their garden and then use those ingredients, combined with others, such as nuts and spices brought from Earth, to prepare their meals.
“That menu is favorable because it allows the astronauts to actually have live plants that are growing, you have optimum nutrient delivery with fresh fruits and vegetables, and it actually allows them to have freedom of choice when they’re actually cooking the menus because the food isn’t already pre-prepared into a particular recipe,” Cooper said.
The top priority is to ensure that the astronauts get the proper amount of nutrients, calories and minerals to maintain their physical health and performance for the life of the mission, Cooper said.
Variety needed: The menu must also ensure the psychological health of the astronauts, Cooper explained, noting studies have shown that eating certain foods — such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes or turkey on Thanksgiving — improve people’s mood and give them satisfaction. That “link to home” will be key for astronauts on the Mars mission, and there are currently two academic studies looking further into the connection between mood and food. Lacking certain vitamins or minerals can also harm the brain, she said.
Jerry Linenger, a retired astronaut who spent 132 days on the Russian Mir space station in 1997, said food is important for morale and the monotony of eating the same thing day after day is difficult.
“You just wanted something different. I didn’t care if it was something I wouldn’t eat in a million years on Earth. If it was different, I would eat it,” Linenger said, recalling with a laugh how he would even drink up a Russian sour milk-like concoction for breakfast or drink up some borscht because it offered variety.
Veggies only: Already, Cooper’s team of three has come up with about 100 recipes, all vegetarian because the astronauts will not have dairy or meat products available. It isn’t possible to preserve those products long enough to take to Mars — and bringing a cow on the mission is not an option, Cooper jokes.
To ensure the vegetarian diet packs the right amount of protein, the researchers are designing a variety of dishes that include tofu and nuts, including a Thai pizza that has no cheese but is covered with carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, scallions, peanuts and a homemade sauce that has a spicy kick.
Reported by RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI of the Associated Press from HOUSTON, Texas. Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAPRead More