Expedition 31 Sails Back to Earth

Soyuz capsule returning to Earth on July 1, 2012 (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A Soyuz TMA-03M capsule descended to the steppes of Kazakhstan this morning at 4:14 a.m., returning Expedition 31 crew members Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit and André Kuipers to Earth after 193 days working aboard the Space Station.

The dramatic photo above was captured by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, showing the Soyuz vehicle as it parachuted down through the clouds.

More photos below…

Almost there… the Expedition 31’s Soyuz vehicle just fractions of a second away from touchdown (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
…and a perfect landing! (ESA–S. Corvaja)
Helicopters and awaiting support crew arrive on the scene of the Soyuz landing immediately after touchdown (ESA–S. Corvaja)
Getting the Expedition 31 out of the Soyuz vehicle (ESA–S. Corvaja)
The crew is carried to the medical tent for physical exams after their six-month stay in space. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Just a few hours earlier the Soyuz had undocked from the ISS, at 12:47 a.m. EDT. It began its deorbital burn a couple of hours after that.

Soyuz TMA-03M vehicle undocks from the ISS in orbit, signifying the start of Expedition 32 (NASA TV)
Soyuz seen from the ISS after undocking on July 1 (NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock once said that coming back to Earth in a Soyuz is like “going over Niagara Falls in a barrel… and then someone lights the barrel on fire.” Luckily it looks like everyone is doing all right after this latest barrel trip… welcome home!

Follow news on the International Space Station teams and missions here.


  1. Joe Labriola says:

    Now that’s a fall.


  2. Jeff Barani says:

    Awesome pictures and… descent !!
    And Soyuz undocked is as a big fly 😉
    Jeff Barani from Vence (France)


  3. Being 89 years old It is a wonder I hardly believe: I am witnessing those spacial adventures with real human and with such precisions. Have been watching since John Glenn and every time I cry of wonder. God bless you all. Micheline


  4. Sorry I just cant explain my feeling.Micheline. Cancel the previous reply M.


    1. J. Major says:

      No, it was a wonderful comment! I know what you meant. Thank you.


  5. Being 89 years old I can hardly believe I am witnessing those spacial adventures with real human performing with such precision in this unknown world. Thank you for your faith and courage


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