How the astronauts on the International Space Station get back to our planet

This Sunday (July 1, 2012), three members of the International Space Station crew will return to Earth on board a Kazakhstan-bound Soyuz craft, after over six months in orbit. Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, two of the returning astronauts, and Joe Acaba, who arrived at the station in May, discuss life on board ISS, the visit of the Dragon capsule, and current activities in space.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Just another day at SCIENCE FRIDAY, calling space.

Station, this is National Public Radio. How do you hear me?

DON PETTIT: NPR, we hear you loud and clear.

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LICHTMAN: Don Pettit, walk us through how you’ll get back to our planet this weekend.

PETTIT: We will get in our Soyuz spacecraft and under the command of Oleg Kononenko, and Andre Kuipers will be flight engineer one or board engineer one, and I’m board engineer two. And we work together to get this spacecraft back home, starting off with undocking.

We start off, we get inside, the close the hatch, we have to do a leak check, make sure the hatches don’t leak. And then we strap in and undock, and then we do a de-orbit burn. And then as we hit the atmosphere, the spacecraft separates so that only the descent module comes through the atmosphere in one piece.

And then our parachute comes out, and we go thump, roll, roll on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Read, or listen, to the full interviewAstronauts Prepare For Departure

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China launches it’s first female ‘taikonaut’ into space

Saturday’s launch of a piloted space capsule known as Shenzhou-9 marks China’s breakthrough into the exclusive club once made up only of the United States and Russia.

One of the three astronauts in the capsule is a woman, 33-year-old Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space.

Shenzhou-9 was launched at 6:37 p.m (local time) against a vivid blue sky from the Jiuquan space station at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Televised nationally, the launch prompted a round of applause in the command center as the capsule separated from its carrier rocket and entered orbit.

The trickiest part of the mission will come when the capsule docks with the Tiangong 1 space module, a prototype of a space station about the size of a school bus, which is orbiting about 213 miles above Earth.

Learn more, including how the U.S. Congress has banned China from the International Space Station…so they’re building their own:

L.A. Times: China launches rocket carrying its first female astronaut

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