NASA reported on Sunday that three astronauts have safely returned to Earth after spending 115 days on a mission at the International Space Station.
“[A]stronaut Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency safely landed their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft in Kazakhstan southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan,” reads a post on the official NASA website.
Russian recovery teams helped the astronauts exit the Soyuz spacecraft and re-adapt to Earth’s gravity after spending such a prolonged time in space.
Rubins participated in two space walks during her time at the station, according to NASA. She and fellow astronaut Jeff Williams installed the first international docking adapter on the station. The adapter will help commercial spacecraft bring astronauts to the station in the future.
— City Of Hype (@CityOfHype) October 30, 2016
Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which are being developed jointly with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, are expected to be among the first commercial craft to visit the station.
While the astronauts were at the station, they also received shipments from several other craft that visited the station to resupply it and provide research materials and equipment.
“Together, the Expedition 49 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the world-class orbiting laboratory during their 115 days in space,” NASA reports.
NASA has been increasingly experimenting with ways to sustain life on the International Space Station, undoubtedly with an eye towards building more permanent, inhabitable satellites in the future or to perhaps even explore the possibilities of terraforming on larger space stations, the moon, or even Mars.
In an article by the Kennedy Space Center’s Anna Heiney published earlier this week on NASA, it was announced that astronauts on the International Space Station had just planted their third “on-orbit” crop of red romaine lettuce.
“Early this morning, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough initiated the Veg-03 experiment, one of his first science assignments as a new crew member aboard the orbiting laboratory,” Heiney wrote.
“As Kimbrough worked, members of the Veggie team watched from their consoles in the Experiment Monitoring Area located in Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A live video downlink from the orbiting laboratory allowed the scientists to remotely watch Kimbrough’s actions and ensure he did not encounter any challenges with the activity or hardware.”
Heiney notes that in the future, astronauts on the International Space Station will indeed need to grow some of their own food to supplement what is supplied to them by visiting ships. The first on-orbit harvest of produce occurred at the space station in 2015.
“Once the plants are approximately four weeks old, a selection of leaves can be harvested for a bit of fresh lettuce and possibly science samples. Meanwhile, some leaves are left intact along with the core of the plant, and will continue to grow and produce more leaves,” Nicole Dufour, NASA’s Veggie project manager, explained.
— NASA (@NASA) October 30, 2016
It’s been a busy week for NASA. Earlier on Sunday, NPR reported that NASA’s new Scout program, which was designed to warn of possible Near-Earth Objects, had spotted an asteroid heading in the direction of Earth. Fortunately, the asteroid is going to pass near Earth rather than colliding with it.
“Objects can come close to the Earth shortly after discovery, sometimes one day, two days, even hours in some cases,” NPR quoted Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as saying.
“The main goal of Scout is to speed up the confirmation process.”
It’s good to know that Scout seems to be doing its job, but the fact that an asteroid can come within a day or two’s distance from hitting us before we even notice it is not very comforting.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and his two crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos will remain on the International Space Station until a replacement crew arrives. That crew is expected to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on November 17.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]