As the Inquisitr previously reported, three of the crew members of Expedition 55 working on board the International Space Station (ISS) have recently completed their 168-day mission and were slated to come home this morning.
Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Norishige “Neemo” Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA astronaut Scott “Maker” Tingle successfully landed back on Earth earlier today, and they didn’t come home alone. The trio brought back on terra firma the official ball of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, that is scheduled to take place in Russia from June 14 through July 15.
The astronauts traveled from space aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft, which landed by parachute southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, in Kazakhstan, at 8:39 a.m. EDT (12:39 GMT or 6:39 p.m. local Kazakh time), reports Space.com.
“That was a good ride!” said Tingle as the Soyuz capsule made its way down toward the Kazakhstan grassland.
As soon as the capsule touched down in the steppe, a Russian-led recovery team rushed to meet the astronauts, along with medical personnel from NASA and JAXA.
The ISS crew looked to be in good health and in a good mood to boot, and Shkaplerov reportedly asked for a bowl of fresh grapes.
“We’re feeling a bit tired. At the same time, we’re proud to have accomplished it and we are glad to be back on Earth. We are glad that the weather is beautiful, it is sunny. And the landing was ‘soft’,” said the Russian astronaut, who was Commander of the now-ended Expedition 55.
With Shkaplerov now back on Earth, the space station fell under the command of NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who will lead Expedition 56 starting today.
Feustel is accompanied on board the ISS by NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, who incidentally took the 2018 FIFA World Cup ball into orbit during his March 24 spaceflight to the ISS.
The Adidas match-ball is called Telstar 18 and was flown into space to be tested in zero-g, notes the Russian news agency TASS. The ball was housed in the Kibo module onboard the ISS and kept in microgravity conditions so that the cosmonauts could observe how it behaves in low-Earth orbit.
According to the sports magazine Who Ate All The Pies, the Telstar 18 was “rigorously tested under all manner of stresses and pressures” by Shkaplerov and Artemyev during an improvised soccer match on May 31. The video below, uploaded by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, shows how the Telstar 18 fared in the zero-g test.
“An official Telstar 18 ball was especially brought to the space station for this purpose and the ball planned to be returned to Earth together with the crew of the Soyuz MS-07 manned spacecraft on June 3,” Roscosmos announced after the space match.
Shkaplerov also commented on the cosmic sports event on June 1, posting a video of the match on Twitter. The footage shows the cosmonauts trying to score Telstar 18 using improvised targets, such as a square entrance to the Harmony module onboard the ISS.
The Telstar 18 will be used in the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, to be held in the Russian capital of Moscow. The official ball of the competition was unveiled in November. Organized in Moscow, the ceremony was attended by renowned soccer stars, such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi, France’s Zinedine Zidane, Brazil’s Kaka, Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero, and Spain’s Xabi Alonso, TASS reported.
This is the first World Cup hosted by Russia and will be held at 12 stadiums located in 11 Russian cities, two of which are in Moscow.