Soyuz crew returns to Earth after a memorable 6 months in space

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Three area station crewmembers returned to Earth at this time (Dec. 20) after a remarkably eventful keep aboard the orbiting laboratory.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Area Company and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev safely touched down on the snowy steppe of Kazakhstan at 12:02 a.m. EST (0502 GMT), one minute forward of schedule. The trio spent a complete of 197 days in area working as a part of Expeditions 56 and 57.

“The Soyuz MS-09 caught the touchdown on the eve of the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first voyage to the moon,” NASA TV commentator Rob Navias stated throughout a reside webcast of the touchdown, referring to the Apollo eight mission that launched on Dec. 21, 1968. [Expedition 57: The Space Station Mission in Photos]

The astronauts returned to Earth in the identical Soyuz crew capsule that introduced them to the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) in June — and the identical spacecraft that sprang a mysterious air leak virtually midway into the crew’s mission. After discovering and sealing the air leak, the crew might have handled sufficient sudden drama for one mission. However simply six weeks later, a harrowing aborted launch of two of their supposed Expedition 57 crewmates threw them for a loop.

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Each the leak and the aborted launch served as a reminder that the now-seemingly routine job of an astronaut remains to be inherently dangerous and that it is good to be ready for something that may occur whereas in area. Fortunately, the leaking Soyuz posed no menace to the passengers on their approach dwelling. The outlet was positioned within the spacecraft’s orbital module, which separates from the crew capsule and burns up in Earth’s environment earlier than touchdown.

For the reason that leak was found, on Aug. 29, NASA and Roscosmos — the Russian area company that builds and launches Soyuz spacecraft — have but to determine precisely how the tiny, 2-millimeter (zero.08 inches) gap obtained there. As a result of the outlet seemed prefer it may have been drilled, Roscosmos steered that human error and even sabotage may very well be guilty.

Whereas the Roscosmos chief implied that the incident might have occurred through the spacecraft’s meeting, there was widespread hypothesis that one of many crewmembers may have drilled the outlet whereas in area. However NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, the ISS commander on the time, was fast to shoot down that concept and defend the integrity of his crewmembers.

With the Soyuz leak investigation nonetheless underway, the ISS crew was gearing up for the arrival of two new roommates — NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin — when their subsequent large nightmare occurred. A pair minutes after the duo lifted off of their Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft, the Soyuz rocket failed and triggered the emergency abort system. The launch failure despatched the crew capsule falling ballistically towards Earth.

Hague and Ovchinin survived the emergency touchdown. Sadly, the incident left the ISS brief two crewmembers, which meant that there could be fewer arms on deck to work on the a whole bunch of science experiments happening on the orbiting lab. The crew was short-handed for about seven weeks, till the subsequent crewed Soyuz mission arrived, with NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian Area Company astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

Whereas the crew of the Soyuz MS-09 needed to endure some annoying experiences in orbit, their mission additionally had its highlights. Gerst turned out to be an avid photographer throughout his time in area, capturing some spectacular images and movies whereas in orbit. His space-photography portfolio now contains some wonderful auroras, a number of hurricanes and even rockets launching into area.

Prokopyev efficiently accomplished two spacewalks along with his Russian crewmembers. Throughout his first spacewalk, in August, he and Oleg Artemyev tossed small satellites into orbit and put in some science tools exterior the station. Then, on Dec. three, Prokopyev went again exterior the station, this time with Kononenko, to examine the patched-up Soyuz gap — a course of that concerned dramatically stabbing the spacecraft with a big area knife.

Throughout Expedition 56/57, the Worldwide Area Station acquired a complete of six cargo shipments packed not solely with science experiments, but additionally with loads of goodies like ice cream and the “world’s strongest espresso.” The newest supply, a SpaceX Dragon capsule, introduced alongside some Christmas goodies, too. One other SpaceX Dragon, which arrived on the ISS shortly after the MS-09, introduced alongside a particular artificial-intelligence robotic known as CIMON, which is brief for “Crew Interactive Cell Companion.” Gerst had the privilege of being the primary individual to speak to CIMON in area.

As per protocol, the astronauts on these missions obtained to take most holidays off from work to chill out, telephone their households and take part in conventional vacation actions, like consuming turkey on Thanksgiving, placing an elf on the shelf earlier than Christmas and even dressing up like Darth Vader for Halloween. Now that the crew is again on the bottom, they’re going to spend the vacations like Earthlings once more.

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