Three ISS Expedition 50 crew members – NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko – safely landed on the Earth after spending almost six months in space aboard the International Space Station.
In October 2016, they all reached the ISS for Expedition 49/50 mission. They touched down on Earth on April 10 at 7:20 am EDT (1120 GMT) in Kazakhstan after spending 173 days on board ISS.
"It was a textbook touchdown," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during live NASA TV commentary after the landing. "The Soyuz was pulled by its main parachute onto its side, but the crew was quickly extracted and are in good shape."
Those monitoring the launch at Mission Control, and on NASA TV, had "some of the most spectacular video we've ever seen" of the capsule's journey down and landing on the cloudless steppe, Navias said — about 14 minutes of footage, from just after the chutes deployed to touchdown.
On Sunday (April 9), NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson took the command of the International Space Station from Kimbrough. Whitson thus created history as she became first woman to command the space station twice. In 2008, she was the ISS' first female commander.
The trio closed the hatch to the Russian Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft near 1 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT) on Monday. They then undocked from the ISS about 3 hours later.
The main engine of the spacecraft was fired for 4.5 minutes starting 6:28 am EDT (1028 GMT) to slow down by 420 feet (128 meters) per second and finally leave orbit to return to Earth. Overall, it was a much shorter journey compared to their two-day trip up to the international space station in 2016.
The Soyuz has a capability to reach the ISS in 6 hours, but on recent launches the arriving crew members have been testing features of the upgraded MS-02 spacecraft, and so took the longer route.
Soyuz was commanded by Ryzhikov, who has now completed his first-ever space mission. Expedition 49/50 were the second space missions for both Kimbrough and Ryzhikov. According to NASA's space station blog, the trio shared their ride home with science samples and other cargo along with personal items.
Whitson, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy are still onboard the ISS. However, they won’t be alone there for long as NASA's Jack Fischer and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin are set to join them. They will leave Earth on April 20 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Navias said during the broadcast that the two were monitoring this landing from the Cosmodrome.
Two spacewalks were recently performed by Kimbrough — one with Pesquet and one with Whitson — to prepare the space station to install a second International Docking Adaptor, which will let commercial vehicles dock with the space station in future.