Sunita Williams, fellow astronauts back on Earth

Sunita Williams, fellow astronauts back on Earth
Houston: Indian-American Sunita Williams and her two co-astronauts Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide have undocked from the Rassvet module of International Space Station for their journey back to Earth after spending four months in orbit.

Earlier, the trio bid farewell to their fellow crew-mates Kevin Ford, Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy, and closed the hatches between the spacecraft before finally undocking at 2226 GMT yesterday (0356 IST today).

The Soyuz carrying the home-bound trio have landed near the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan today. The return of Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko will wrap up their 127-day stay in space, including 125 days spent aboard the station, since the launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15.

Ms Williams, will have spent a total of 322 days in space during her two long-duration missions.

She previously served aboard the station as an Expedition 14/15 flight engineer from December 9, 2006 to June 22, 2007.

Ms Williams has a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalking time over seven spacewalks, including the three she conducted during Expeditions 32 and 33.

This was also the second trip into space for Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who visited the station as a STS-124 mission specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Russian Soyuz Commander Malenchenko is wrapping up his fifth spaceflight for a total of 642 days in space, placing him seventh on the all-time endurance list.

Deorbit and landing coverage will continue until the crew is safely in the medical tent at the landing site in southern Kazakhstan.

The NASA TV will air its post-landing video file, including interviews with the crew.

The undocking signals the end of Expedition 33 and the start of Expedition 34 under the command of Ford, who will remain on the station with Novitskiy and Tarelkin until March.

Ms Williams transferred the helm of the orbiting laboratory to Ford during a change of command ceremony Saturday afternoon.

Three additional Expedition 34 flight engineers - NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko -- are scheduled to launch from Baikonur December 19 and dock to the station two days later for a five-month stay.

Hadfield will become the first Canadian to command the station when Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin depart, marking the start of Expedition 35.