Soyuz TMA-21, carrying NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev & Andrey Borisenko, landed in the Kazakhstan region at 4:00am GMT, after a 6 months mission. The spacecraft, whose mission began on April 4, 2011, had completed 162 days out of its 200 day orbital lifetime limit. Its return, originally scheduled pro September 8, was delayed by one week to keep the ISS crewed with six people as long as possible, following the temporary suspension of Soyuz flights due to the recent launch failure of Progress M12-M. Landing after September 18 was considered risky, since the landing site becomes too dark in this period of the year. The next landing window would have been on October 26, well beyond the 200 days limit. Now that the cause of the Soyuz rocket failure has been identified, the next crew launch is tentatively scheduled for November 14, a date that would allow to maintain the ISS crewed without interruptions. Mike Suffredini, International Space Station program manager, released a statement in September 15 which stressed the importance of safety of the crews: ”The plan approved today, coupled with the conditions on orbit, allow the partnership to support this priority while ensuring astronauts will continue to live and work on the station uninterrupted,” he said.
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