Three International Space Station crew members landed safely in Kazakhstan this Thursday.
Terry Virts of NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov stayed a month longer than expected in space, returning after 199 days on board the ISS, according to AP.
Safe landing after extended mission
A Russian Soyuz capsule was used to transport them back to Earth, landing at 9:44 a.m. EDT approximately 90 miles away from the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan. The capsule landed on schedule, and one NASA commentator called the landing a textbook homecoming.
The spacecraft drifted slowly back to Earth underneath a red and white striped parachute, landing gently on the steppe of Kazakhstan. Search and rescue crews were delivered to the landing site by Russian helicopters, before assisting the astronauts in exiting the capsule.
Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov could be seen reclining in the sun as they adapted to terrestrial conditions following months in space. Medical checks were then carried out in a nearby inflatable tent.
“I’m doing great. I feel really good,” Virts said. Following the initial checks, the crew members will be taken to the city of Karaganda, from where they will take planes back to their respective countries.
Failed Soyuz launch delayed return
Their mission was meant to end one month earlier, but the failed launch of a Russian cargo ship in April delayed their return to Earth. The Soyuz spacecraft is used to carry crew members to the ISS, and the failed launch forced Russian officials to investigate the matter, delaying the return of the crew and any further launches.
However a Soyuz rocket launched last week, successfully carrying a satellite into space. The next Soyuz launch will take a load of cargo to the ISS in early July, followed by more crew members later in the month.
Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko make up the current Russian contingent on board the ISS, along with NASA’s Scott Kelly. Kelly and Kornienko are both scheduled to pass one year on board the ISS as part of a study into the effects of zero gravity on ageing. Kelly’s twin brother Mark has remained on Earth and will act as a control in the experiment.