It's time for a crew swap on the International Space Station. Astronauts Reid Wiseman, Alexander Gerst, and Max Suraev had a flawless descent in the Soyuz spacecraft only to have their homecoming was marred by below-freezing temperatures and a sharp gust of wind tipping their capsule over after landing.
Gerst, Wiseman, and Suraev wave goodbye from the space station's cupola. Image credit: NASA
Expedition 41 ended when the Soyuz spacecraft carrying the trio undocked on Sunday night. With the trio's departure, the station is now occupied by Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Elena Serova as they await the arrival of the rest of Expedition 42 later this month.
Top image: The trio of astronauts squeezed into Soyuz for the first step of their journey home. Credit: NASA
The station is down to a crew of three until the next batch of astronauts launches on November 23rd. NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will bring Expedition 42 up to its full compliment, staying in orbit for six months.
The Soyuz spacecraft responsible for carrying Wiseman, Gerst, and Suraev home. Image credit: Max Suraev
Wiseman, Gerst, and Suraev covered over 110 million kilometers during their 165 days on the space station. This was the first time Wiseman and Gerst were in space, while Suraev was a veteran with experience from Expeditions 21 and 22, bringing his total time in space up to just under a year at 334 days.
The descent went pretty much perfectly. After drifting free of the station and a quick four-minute burn, the craft went into a half-hour free-fall. The spacecraft was pyrotechnically split into three parts, with the crew module continuing to Earth while the other two modules burned up on re-entry. Soyuz arrived exactly on schedule 56 minutes after detaching from the station, landing at 9:58 am Monday local time (10:58 pm EST Sunday).
The landing was a bit less ideal, with the relatively soft touchdown immediately followed by a strong gust of wind snatching at the parachute and tipping the capsule over. Although an unusual occurrence, this was more of an inconvenience than anything else as the astronauts needed to wriggle out sideways in a most undignified manner. Poor visibility from fog delayed the arrival of their helicopter, further marring their homecoming.
Gerst wriggling out of the tipped-over Soyuz descent module. Image credit: ESA/NASA
Once the astronauts finally disembarked from their cramped capsule, the astronauts were met by a chilly surprise: after spending the past half a year at a balmy 22°C , the astronauts were dropped into a frigid -5°C in northern Kazakhstan.
Alexander Gerst (left), Max Suraev (center), and Reid Wiseman (right) swaddled in blankets as they sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-13M capsule minutes after landing on Monday morning. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
When asked about how terrestrial tensions impacted life aboard the station, Expedition commander Suraev explained through a translator:
"Here we have [Russia], Germany and the U.S., we have worked together for half a year. Everything was fine, everything was in the spirit of cooperation. So I think everybody needs to learn and follow the example of ISS crew members — don't get insulted, don't try to prove anything to each other, let's try to live together, side by side."
Gerst, Suraev, and Wiseman in the Harmony node of the space station in August 2014. Image credit: NASA
After completing on-site medical tests, the trio was whisked away on a two-hour flight to Kustanai for a traditional welcome-home ceremony. Once the ceremony was completed, they'd split up, with Suraev taking a jet back to Moscow, while Wiseman and Gerst carpooled on another jet to Scotland. They then split up with Gerst heading home to Germany while Wiseman continued on with the NASA contingent to Texas.