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Trio return to Earth after six-month International Space Station mission

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shortly after returning to Earth
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy sits in a chair shortly after returning to Earth near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Thursday.
(Roscosmos Space Agency)

A trio of crew members aboard the International Space Station returned safely to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission in orbit.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. local time Thursday. After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopter to Dzhezkazgan, from where they will depart for home.

Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly home to Star City, Russia.

The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that the men were in good condition.

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As part of additional precautions because of the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for infection, and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

A NASA spacecraft descended to an asteroid Tuesday and momentarily touched the surface to collect a handful of cosmic rubble that will be brought to Earth.

Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth-most among U.S. astronauts.

While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.

Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.

In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s first operational SpaceX Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.


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