A trio of space travelers returned safely to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. from Thursday. After a short medical check-up, the three of them will be taken by helicopter to Dzhezkazgan from where they will depart home.
Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly back to Star City, Russia.
The crew smiled as they spoke to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.
As part of the additional precautions due to the coronavirus, members of the rescue team who met with the crew were tested for the virus 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 on April 9. They left behind Kate Rubins of NASA and Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos, who arrived at the outpost in orbit a week ago for a six-month stay.
Cassidy, who is returning from her third space mission, has spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among American astronauts.
While serving as the station commander, Cassidy welcomed the SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch into the space station in an American spacecraft from American soil from the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, making them two of four American astronauts who completed 10 spacewalks.
Before the crew’s departure, the Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak that they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has not posed an immediate danger to station personnel and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.
In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to welcome NASA’s first SpaceX operational Crew Dragon mission that includes NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and NASA astronaut. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Soichi Noguchi.