Expedition 37 Crew and Olympic Torch Return to Earth

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Soyuz Landing

Three Expedition 37 crew members are back on Earth after 166 days aboard the International Space Station.

Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano undocked their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from aft end the Zvezda service module at 6:26 p.m. EST Sunday to begin the journey home. At the time of the undocking, the complex was orbiting 262 miles over northeast Mongolia.

A deorbit burn at 8:55 p.m. put the Soyuz on track for a parachute-assisted landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkazgan at 9:49 p.m. (8:49 a.m. Monday, Kazakh time).

The undocking marked the end of Expedition 37 and the start of Expedition 38 under the command of Oleg Kotov. Yurchikhin passed the helm of the station over to Kotov during a change of command ceremony Sunday. After making their final farewells, Yurchikhin, Parmitano and Nyberg boarded their Soyuz, and the crews closed the hatches between the vehicles at 3:09 p.m.

Returning to Earth along with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano is the torch that will be used to light the Olympic flame at the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the 2013 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The Olympic torch arrived at the space station Thursday aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft carrying three new crew members - Expedition 38 Flight Engineers Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata. To accommodate their arrival, Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano relocated their Soyuz spacecraft on Nov. 1 from the Rassvet module where it had been docked since May 28 over to Zvezda. The arrival of Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin marked the first time since October 2009 that nine people have served together aboard the station without the presence of a space shuttle.

Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy relayed the torch outside the station Saturday during a spacewalk to continue setting up a combination extravehicular activity workstation and biaxial pointing platform and deactivate a completed experiment.

Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins, who launched and docked to the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-10M vehicle on Sept. 25, will return to Earth on March 12. Their departure will signify the beginning of Expedition 39 under the command of Wakata, the first Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut entrusted with that position

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