Wrapping up nearly six months in orbit, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Television broadcast confirmed astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts climbed into a Russian Soyuz capsule on Wednesday and left the International Space Station, NASA station commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova, with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, sealed themselves into the Soyuz capsule shortly after 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT), the same spaceship that carried them into orbit on Sept. 25. Three hours later, the Soyuz pulled away from its berthing port, aiming for a parachute landing in Kazakhstan at 10:07 p.m. EDT (0207 GMT).
Station commander Terry Virts radioed to his departing crewmates. “Soft landing guys, we’re going to miss you”. He, who took over command of the station from Wilmore on Tuesday, remains aboard with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who are both due home mid-May. Wilmore and Samokutyaev are completing their second spaceflights. Serova is making her first spaceflight and is the first Russian woman to serve on the station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
NASA expects future crews to make four more spacewalks before the end of the year to install new docking ports and other equipment for the new spaceships. Wilmore partnered with Virts for a trio of spacewalks between Feb. 21 and March 1 to prepare parking spots for two new commercial space taxis hired by NASA to begin ferrying crewmembers to and from the station in 2017. NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko are due to spend a year aboard the station, which flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth. They are slated to launch, along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, on March 27 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Although space travel looks easy on movies, but in reality it causes both short term and long term complication for a spacecraft’s most delicate load, its crew. With the arrival of the next crew, NASA and Russia will be doubling the mission durations, in an attempt to learn more about how the human body responds to even longer stays in space and needs better understanding on how the human body adapts its enormous stress coupled with the other environmental changes. Overall, there are small data on the manifold effects of living in space and this makes attempts toward mitigating the risking during a lengthy space habitation difficult.