Three astronauts each from US space agency NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian space agency Roscosmos, who were all part of the International Space Station (ISS) crew, on Sunday strapped themselves inside a Russian Soyuz capsule in order to retrun back to the Earth after their 5 1/2- month-long stay in the space.
The capsule had departed at 7:31 pm EST on Monday and was scheduled to make a parachute landing at 10:58 pm EST in Kazakhstan, northeast part of Arkalyk.
The three astronauts who flew back to the planet as a part og change-of-command program were Reid Wiseman of NASA, outgoing station commander Maxim Suraev of Roscosmos and German flight engineer Alexander Gerst from ESA.
Talking on the occasion of the change-of-command ceremony on Saturday, NASA’s Wiseman said, “It’s been an honor and a privilege to spend 165 days up here. With that said, I’m looking forward to heading home.”
The ceremony was broadcasted live via NASA Television from aboard the international space station.
The trio had kicked off their voyage to the space station together aboard the same capsule on May 28 this year.
“It’s not easy to part from the station,” the three enthusiasts messaged on radio waves to Russian flight controllers amid the Soyuz slipped away from its berthing port.
“They say this is the most complex machine that humanity has ever built. Even after half a year onboard, it is impossible for me to fathom how complex it is to actually operate this machine. What I did see and what I am sure of is this is the finest example of teamwork that I’ve ever seen in my life,” an excited Gerst said during the ceremony.
The crew members who will take over the charges of the three returning space scientists at the ISS included newly named commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore (NASA) and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samoukutyaev and Elena Serova.
The replacement crew, including cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti, will be joining them are due to launch on November 23 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The international space station is a USD 100 billion research laboratory owned and operated under 15 nations partnership. It orbits about 418 km (260 miles) above the Earth.