At 2:37 a.m. Chicago time, three astronauts returned safely to Earth following a four month stay on the International Space Station (ISS), where they lived and worked as the Expedition 53 crew. NASA astronaut Randy Bresnick served as commander, with flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos.
The crew made their return in a Soyuz spacecraft, which landed in a remote and snow covered region of Kazakhstan where medical teams, recovery crew, and representatives from all three space agencies awaited their return.
The crew was on-board for several milestones that included the anniversary of Sputnik, the arrival of three cargo spacecraft, and four long term duration NASA astronauts living on the station at the same time. Over 2,200 orbits of the Earth were made in the span of the 139 day mission, and over one hundred experiments and research conducted in all areas of science.
How to land a Soyuz
The return to Earth begins once the hatch on the Soyuz spacecraft berthed to the International Space Station closes. Safe re-entry into Earth's atmosphere requires a series of burns and module separation with friction providing much of the necessary reduction in speed necessary to land. A series of parachutes and retro-rockets produce a soft landing that most astronauts describe as anything but soft.
A station commander
NASA Astronaut Randy Bresnik served as Expedition 53 commander on what was his second mission to space and the ISS. In addition to operating the station, Bresnik conducted dozens of science experiments, spent hours observing the Earth, conducted three spacewalks, and spoke with students on the ground.
A highlight of the mission was the One World One Orbit initiative, photographing the Earth as the station completed an entire orbit. Photos of the Earth snapped by Bresnik and crew member Joe Acaba were posted to social media, as students simultaneously posted photos from their location as the station passed overhead.
A flight engineer
For ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, this was his third mission to the ISS and second long duration mission living and working on the station. Nespoli traveled to the station to participate in the VITA mission, which included over sixty experiments that are meant to provide data and insight into the adaptability of humans to live in space long term.
And a pilot
Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy served as Soyuz commander, piloting the spacecraft to the station in September and back to Earth early Thursday morning. While on the space station, Ryazanskiy conducted a spacewalk, performed station maintenance, conducted space research, and deployed nanosatellites.
A quick turnaround
By Saturday, Bresnik and Paolo were already in Houston, arriving at Ellington Field, and greeted by family and colleagues. The crew mates will participate in some post-mission research and rehab before taking some much needed time off.
Additionally, a last minute decision was made to launch the next crew ahead of schedule on December 17. The crew of three astronauts, Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, and Anton Shkaplerov a Roscosmos cosmonaut, will launch in a Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur. This flight change will result in a two day flight to the station instead of the shorter, hours-long flight originally planned. The launch of the Soyuz MS-07 crew can be viewed live on NASA TV.
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