Saturday, June 3, 2017

Expedition 51 Duo Returns to Earth

The Soyuz MS-03 capsule carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of Oleg Novitskiy of Russia and Thomas Pesquet of France lands in a remote area outside the town of Dzhezkazgan (Zhezkazgan), Kazakhstan June 2, 2017. Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017

After spending 196 days in space, Expedition 51 crew members Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) landed their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft in Kazakhstan at approximately 10:10 a.m. EDT. Russian recovery teams helped the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after their stay in space.

The return was routine – or as routine as you can get for a ride that requires braking from 28 800 km/h to zero. The heatshield copes with the 1,600°C as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere, parachutes and retrorockets provide the final braking, and moulded seats cushion the impact – but it is still a wild ride.

“Glad to see Thomas and Oleg back on Earth after another astounding mission,” commented David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration. “The Space Station’s allure for researchers and space agencies is its continuous operation and ground teams around the world keep it running 24/7.

The duo arrived at the International Space Station on Nov. 19, 2016, along with NASA’s Peggy Whitson, who will remain on the space station and return home with NASA’s Jack Fischer and Roscosmos’ Fyodor Yurchikhin. That landing is targeted for September. 

When Russia’s crew was reduced last spring and one seat on the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft remained vacant, Whitson's mission was prolonged till September.

At the time of undocking, Expedition 52 began aboard the station under Yurchikhin’s command. Along with Whitson and Fischer of NASA, the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members. Randy Bresnik of NASA, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of ESA are scheduled to launch July 28 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Whitson, who is serving on the station for a third time, broke the U.S. record in April for cumulative time in space. By the time she returns to Earth in September, she will have accumulated more than 660 days in orbit.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, with 878 days in orbit, is the world’s most experienced space flier.


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