The crew of the International Space Station is down to three after European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitski landed rather uncomfortably in the wilds of Kazakhstan.
The duo departed the ISS in their Soyuz capsule at 0347 PDT (1037 UTC) and rotated 180 degrees to fire the engines in deceleration burn. Explosive bolts shot off extraneous hardware, such as main engines and solar panels, and the passengers had a bumpy ride as air compression on reentry jarred the capsule and heated it to uncomfortable temperatures.
After a tumble through the upper atmosphere, the capsule's drogue parachute deployed to steady the spacecraft in the ever-thickening atmosphere. It was Pesquet's first trip to the ISS and his first experience of a Soyuz landing.
After the 1,000 square metre parachute deployed, the capsule jettisoned its heat shield and outer windows at 5km (3.1mi) up, and drifted down at about 23kph (14mph). Then the rockets deployed.
Because the old Soviet Union lacked easy access to the sea, Soyuz capsules were designed to land on home soil. To cushion the landing, the Soyuz seats pivot and a few feet above the ground rockets fire to slow the spacecraft down to 5kph (3mph) before touchdown – it's a sequence fellow astronaut and Trekkie extraordinaire Samantha Cristoforetti reminded Pesquet about.
The Soyuz touched down at 0710 PDT (1410 UTC), right on its target landing spot. The crew were taken off to their respective medical centers for testing. Every ISS astronaut is checked and tested as a baseline for determining how well humans can deal with extended space travel.
While this was Novitski's second stint on the ISS, it was Pesquet's first. The Frenchman managed to break a new record for the amount of scientific work done on the ISS, as well as casting his vote in the state's elections earlier this month. ®