Three ISS Crew Members Safely Return to Earth

Three ISS Crew Members Safely Return to Earth

Three International Space Station (ISS) crew members safely returned to Earth tonight (Eastern Daylight Time).  They and their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft landed in Kazakhstan at approximately 9:14 pm EDT (7:14 am Wednesday local time at the landing site) after 172 days in space.

The three crew members are NASA’s Jeff Williams and Roscosmos’s Oleg Skripochka and Aleksey Ovchinin.  They launched to the ISS on March 19, 2016. 

Williams now holds the U.S. record for total time in space — 534 days over four flights.   Scott Kelly, who returned to Earth earlier this year after spending 340 days on ISS, still holds the U.S. record for continuous time in space.  One of the research goals of the ISS is to study how humans react to long durations in weightlessness in preparation for longer trips to destinations like Mars.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (left) minutes after landing in the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft in Kazakhstan on September 6, 2016 EDT (September 7 local time at the landing site).  Roscosmos cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin is on the right.  Screengrab from NASA TV

Three other crew members remain aboard the ISS:  NASA’s Kate Rubins, JAXA’s Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos’s Anatoly Ivanishin.  The ISS crew complement will return to its usual six later this month after the September 23 EDT launch of Soyuz MS-02.   Aboard will be NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and two Roscosmos cosmonauts – Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov.

The ISS has been permanently occupied by two-to-six person crews since the end of 2000.  The crews rotate on roughly 4-6 month schedules, although two crew members remained aboard for 340 days — NASA’s Scott Kelly and Roscosmos’s Mikhael Kornienko.  The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 members of the European Space Agency.

Soyuz TMA-20M is the final flight of this version of the Soyuz spacecraft, which made its debut in 1967, but has been upgraded several times.  The most recent upgrade, the Soyuz MS series, had its first flight in July, taking Rubins, Onishi and Ivanishin to the ISS.

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