Monday, April 10, 2017

Space Station Trio Return to Earth After 73 Million Mile Journey

After a journey of over 73 million miles, the Expedition 49/50 crew have safely returned to Earth after completing a 173 day mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov with crew mates Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan, southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan at 11:21 p.m. GMT.
Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko adjust to life back on Earth shortly
after landing. credit: NASA/Ingalls

The trio bid farewell to their crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 7:56 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft from the station's Poisk module - marking the official beginning of Expedition 51.

Since their arrival to station the crew have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including biology, biotechnology, physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments.

Landing in perfect conditions under clear skies, the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and flown to the remote town of Karaganda a short time later for a welcoming ceremony.

Ryzhikov and Borisenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with their families, while Kimbrough will return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This morning's landing brings to an end the first long duration space flight for Ryzhikov, and the second for his Russian crew mate Borisenko, who first flew to the station as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 27/28. He now logs a total of 337 days in space.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who previously flew on a short-duration mission to the station on space shuttle mission STS-126, returns to Earth with a combined 184 days in space under his belt.

Before his departure this morning, Kimbrough handed over the reigns of the International Space Station to Whitson in the traditional Change of Command ceremony, in which he recognised the difference science conducted in space has for people the world over;

"We get the ability to interact with things up here that benefit all humanity."
The Soyuz MS-02 carrying Ryzhikov, Borisenko and Kimbrough shortly before landing at 11:21 a.m. GMT.
Credit: NASA/Ingalls
In the meantime, station commander Peggy Whitson alongside Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet remain aboard station. Whitson, who became the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station with this morning's departure paid tribute to her commander for the past four and a half months.

"Up here we don't wear shoes but Shane's leaving me some big socks to fill!"

Meanwhile back on Earth, veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer are in the final stages preparations for their launch to the International Space Station. The duo will launch in their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 20.

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