ISS Astronauts return home safely after a 166 day stint in orbit. American astronaut Mike Hopkins and Russian Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and SergeyRyazanskiy exited the Soyuz TMA-10 landing pod and were greeted by rescue crews in all-terrain vehicles homed in on them outside of the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan. Despite the bad weather the landing and recovery went off without a hitch, with time for photos of rescue personnel standing behind the three space men reclined in chairs and wrapped in blankets to protect them from the bitter chill of the snowy winds blowing around them.
This was the first trip to space for Hopkins and he says the biggest challenge was growing accustomed to floating in the micro gravity environment. Once he was acclimatized he participated in several science and repair missions aboard the International Space Station, including observing plant growth in microgravity, replacing a faulty ammonia pump in the ISS cooling system, and weighing in on the effects on human health of being space for extended periods of time.
Cosmonauts Kotov and Ryazanskiy carried the Olympic torch on a space walk before it was returned to Earth and used to kick off the Olympic ceremonies in Sochi. They also worked to install new cameras on the ISS exterior to provide better views of the Earth from the orbiting research platform. Re-entry marked the end of Kotov’s third space mission, but Ryazanskiy is returning from his first mission.
All three ISS astronauts are reported to be in good health. They underwent quick medical tests in the windblown flatlands before being flown by helicopter to Karaganda where a formal welcome ceremony and recovery time is planned. Even after the ISS astronauts return home safely there has been concern that the long-term effects of living in space may have impaired the men. They have not been reported to be suffering from the common effects of intra-cranial pressure or vision impairment, but will remain under observation. These effects have been reported by several astronauts that have spent extended periods of time in space and is believed to be caused by the lack of gravity allowing bodily fluids to rise in to the upper body. The feeling is similar to the pressure felt after standing on one’s head for too long.
Bad weather wasn’t the only thing threatening to delay the return of the space explorers as ongoing tensions continue between Russia, Crimea, and Ukraine. Russia and the U.S. head up the 15-nation team that runs the ISS, but so far the space missions appear to evaded any potential harm that may come about over the entanglement. Kotov hails from Crimea and is returning from his 526th day in space to an Earth that is much less peaceful than it must appear from almost 300 miles overhead.
Expedition 39 will bring new crew members to the ISS in two weeks. In the mean-time it is being watched over by Dr. Koichi Wakata and flight engineers Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin. As the ISS astronauts return home safely, hope that the involved nations can cooperate on Earth as well as they do in space is felt across the world.
By Daniel O’Brien