Malaysia’s first Angkasawan Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor landed safely some 340km away from the target landing spot in Arkylk, Kazakhstan on Sunday at 6.37pm Malaysian time after spending approximately 10 days, 21 hours and 16 minutes in space.
The Soyuz TMA-10 capsule which brought him back to Earth also brought home commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.
The landing however was not as expected, and this caused some anxiety especially for Dr Sheikh’s mother Datin Zuraida Sheikh Ahmad who was watching the event live.
The landing was switched from a nominal aerodynamic reentry mode to a much steeper ballistic trajectory, causing the capsule to tocuh down 340 km of the primary landing site. The cause was not immediately known.
A recovery team comprising six military Russian helicopters later located the capsule and brought out the cosmonauts at 6.52pm, beginning with Yurchikhin, followed by Dr Sheikh Muszaphar and finally Kotov.
They were brought to a tent set up next to the capsule and given immediate medical attention as part of the recovery procedure.
Dr Sheikh Muszaphar’s health was reported to be in “very good” condition.
According to NASA, in preparation for landing, the crew of Soyuz TMA-10 closed the hatches from the station to the spacecraft around 10:00 p.m. Houston Time on October 20, 2007. The spacecraft undocked from the ISS at 3.14pm Malaysian time and began its quick descent to Earth.
At 5.47pm, the capsule commenced its de-orbit burn and engine rockets fired for just over four minutes to slow the craft down in preparation for its separation into three parts, one of which – called the descent module – contained the crew members. The other two parts were disposed of in space.
The craft entered the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere at 6.14pm. It then picked up speed as it began to be pulled by Earth’s gravity, travelling at speeds over 200m per second.
Once in the atmosphere, the external part of the capsule heated up to a temperature of as high as 9,000 degrees Kelvin (8,700°C).
There was also a 10-minute “communications blackout” when the capsule entered the atmosphere – a normal occurrence caused by a surge of overwhelming heat generated by the capsule, rendering any form of communication impossible.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis and their wives at the control centre offered a thanksgiving prayer on hearing that Dr Sheikh was well.
Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) chief Anatoli Perminov then congratulated Datuk Najib. At a press conference later, Perminov said a commission would be set up to determine why the craft had departed from its trajectory.
"The commission will conduct an in-depth study to determine why the automatic descent was switched off at a 50km altitude," he said through an interpreter.Those who had hoped to view the landing live were unable to as the screens only showed graphics of the location of the craft.