The re-entry of astronauts from the space station is officially underway. They touched down on the ground in Kazakhstan shortly after midnight, making their return to Earth from the ISS in NASA’s longest-serving space mission since the shuttle program ended.
“I’ve had a lot of experience and I think I am ready for something new,” said Commander Joe Acaba of NASA on his final ISS mission.
“It’s time to come home,” he told reporters in Moscow, after arriving there last week. “It’s been a joy and a privilege for me.”
The crew landed safely, shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, near the town of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan, NASA said. The Soyuz-FG capsule carrying the astronauts and three crew members docked with the ISS on Tuesday morning, and opened its hatches to allow cargo and astronauts to meet. After that, the crew spent the next 15 hours getting through final safety checks.
In announcing their return to Earth, NASA said the rocket was in “constant contact” with the capsule, but also its communications systems.
“The one-two punch of astronaut re-entry and communication is not the routine ‘smoothing out’ performed for most spacecraft returning to Earth,” NASA said. “The returning spacecraft, like all human spacecraft returning to Earth, can experience a series of complex mechanical and chemical challenges on its way back to the Earth.”
As such, the crew is no longer accessible by NASA TV.
“It’s not my choice,” said Alex Koch, communications manager at NASA Flight Operations Center Houston.
The crew are “due to return to Earth” sometime between Tuesday evening and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday EST.
The flight ended the longest stretch of space station station life ever reached by NASA: two-and-a-half years and 12 days. This included Acaba, NASA’s current longest-serving astronaut, working more than 375 days.