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Soyuz crew returns to Earth after a memorable 6 months in space

European Space Agency astronaut Alex Barley sticks his fist in the air after being pulled from the Soyuz-MS-09 space ship Dec. 20, 2018.
(NASA/Roscosmos)

Three space station crew members returned to Earth today (Dec. 20) after a remarkably adventurous stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor of the German astronaut Alexander Barley, of the European space agency esa and the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev safely landed on the snowy steppes of Kazakhstan at 12:02 pm EST (0502 GMT), one minute ahead of schedule. The trio spent a total of 197 days in space working as part of the Expeditions of 56 and 57.

“The Soyuz-MS-09 confirmation of the landing on the eve of the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first journey to the moon,” NASA TV commentator Rob Navias said during a live webcast of the landing, with a reference to the Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968. [Expedition 57: The space Mission in Pictures]

The astronauts returned to Earth in the same Soyuz crew capsule that brought them to the International Space Station (ISS) in June — and the same spacecraft that sprang a mysterious air leaks almost half the crew of the mission. After finding and sealing the air leaks, the crew may have dealt with enough unexpected drama to a mission. But just six weeks later, a poignant aborted launch of two of their planned Expedition 57 astronauts threw them for a loop.

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Both the leak and the launch is aborted served as a reminder of the fact that the now seemingly routine job of an astronaut is still inherently risky and that it is good to be prepared for anything that may happen while in the space. Fortunately, the leakage of the Soyuz-no threat for the passengers on their way home. The hole was located in the spacecraft orbital module, which separates from the crew capsule and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere for landing.

Since the leak was discovered, Aug. 29, NASA and Roscosmos — the Russian space agency, which builds and launches Soyuz — yet to figure out exactly how the small, 2 mm (0.08 inch) hole there. Because the hole looked like it had drilled, Roscosmos, suggested that a human error or even sabotage could be to blame.

While the Roscosmos chief implied that the incident may have occurred during the spacecraft’s meeting, there was widespread speculation that one of the crew members could have drilled the hole, while in the space. But NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, the ISS commander at the time, was quick to shoot down that idea and the defense of the integrity of his crew members.

With the Soyuz-leak investigation is still underway, the ISS crew was gearing up for the arrival of two new housemates — NASA astronaut Nick Hague and the Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin — when their next big nightmare happened. A few minutes after the duo lifted off in their Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft, the Soyuz rocket failed, and the cause of the emergency abort system. The launch failure sent the crew capsule are falling ballistically toward the Earth.

The hague and Ovchinin survived the emergency landing. Unfortunately, the incident left the ISS short two crew members, which meant that there was less hands on deck to work on the hundreds of scientific experiments going on at the job lab. The crew was short-handed for about seven weeks, until the next manned Soyuz mission arrived, with NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

While the crew of the Soyuz-MS-09 had to endure a number of stressful experiences in a job, their mission also had its highlights. Barley proved to be an avid photographer during his time in the space, capturing some spectacular photos and videos while you’re in the job. Its space-photography-portfolio now also includes a number of fantastic aurora’s, several hurricanes, and even launch rockets into space.

Prokopyev successfully completed two spacewalks with its Russian crew members. During his first spacewalk, in August, he and Oleg Artemyev threw small satellites in orbit and installed some science equipment outside the station. Then, on Dec. 3, Prokopyev went back outside the station, this time with Kononenko, on inspection of the patched-up of the Soyuz-hole — a process that dramatically stabbing the spaceship with a large knife.

During the Expedition, 56/57, the International Space Station received a total of six freight shipments are packed not only with scientific experiments, but also with lots of goodies such as ice cream and the “world’s strongest coffee.” The most recent episode, a SpaceX Dragon capsule, together with a number of Christmas goodies, too. Another SpaceX Dragon, which arrived at the ISS shortly after the MS-09, brought out a special artificial-intelligence robot called CIMON, which is short for the “Crew Interactive Mobile Companion.” Barley had the privilege to be the first person to talk to CIMON in the space.

Per protocol, the astronauts on a mission to get most holidays off from work to relax, to telephone their families and to take part in the traditional holiday activities, such as eating turkey on Thanksgiving, an elf on the shelf for Christmas and even dress up as Darth vader for Halloween. Now that the crew back on the ground, they will spend the holidays as Earthlings.

Original article on Space.com.

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