The reigns of the International Space Station (ISS) have now fallen in fresh hands as the commander of Expedition 56, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, has returned to Earth along with two of his crewmates.
After handing over the orbital outpost to German astronaut Alexander Gerst during a ceremony held on October 3, Feustel and fellow astronauts Ricky Arnold of NASA and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos boarded the Soyuz MS-08 capsule that ferried them to the ISS on March 23 and prepared for the return trip home.
The trio landed safely on the steppe of Kazakhstan bright and early this morning, NASA announced earlier today. The Soyuz capsule descended southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan and touched down at exactly 7:44 a.m. EDT (11:44 GMT or 5:44 p.m. local Kazakh time), three hours after undocking from the space station’s Poisk module.
The three astronauts have spent six months living and working onboard the space station. During their 197-day mission, Feustel, Arnold, and Artemyev completed 3,152 orbits of Earth, logging 83.4 million miles since they launched to the ISS on March 21, reports Spaceflight Now.
This was Feustel’s third mission onboard the space station, with the former ISS commander now logging more than 226 days in space. Meanwhile, Arnold and Artemyev both served two tours on the orbiting laboratory. The U.S. astronaut capped in at more than 209 cumulative days spent in orbit, whereas the Russian cosmonaut has lived in space for a whole year during his two missions.
“There’s no place like home! Earth has 3 more people on it,” NASA tweeted earlier today.
There’s no place like home! Earth has 3 more people on it as @Astro_Feustel, @Astro_ricky and @OlegMKS land at 7:44am ET after a 197-day mission aboard the @Space_Station. Watch: https://t.co/ZuxLDtzW9c Ask questions using #askNASA pic.twitter.com/T0SLyTx0k7— NASA (@NASA) October 4, 2018
As Space points out, their homecoming coincided with the 61st anniversary of the Sputnik launch, Earth’s first artificial satellite sent into space by the former Soviet Union.
The media outlet states that all three astronauts seemed to be in a good mood as they drew their first breath of fresh air in six months. As a side note, Artemyev, who acted as the Soyuz commander during the spaceflight, was greeted with a large carrot and even enjoyed the scents from a cantaloupe and large squash.
Prior to leaving the ISS, the Expedition 56 commander tweeted a touching message thanking space fans for following his crew’s journey during their last mission.
“I have had my ‘glory days in the hot sun’ and now it’s time to come home,” wrote Feustel. “I hope you continue to follow NASA as we explore the great depths of space for the benefit of humanity.”
I have had my “glory days in the hot sun” and now it’s time to come home. Thank you everybody for following along on Expedition 56’s journey living on @Space_Station. I hope you continue to follow @NASA as we explore the great depths of space for the benefit of humanity. pic.twitter.com/HhUkzbUjSN— A.J. (Drew) Feustel (@Astro_Feustel) October 3, 2018
Before parting with Gerst, Feustel gifted the new ISS commander an anorthosite phenocryst from Mount Erebus in Antarctica, a special token from one geophysicist to another.
“I know you have many of these and some have flown in space, but surely not one given by a fellow geophysicist and fellow ISS commander while actually in space,” Feustel told Gerst during the change of command ceremony, which you can watch below (the ceremony starts at minute 3:33).
These last six months spent in Earth’s orbit have brought the astronauts a lot of excitement as they conducted record-breaking spacewalks and took part in dozens of cutting-edge science experiments — including the famous Cold Atom Laboratory, dubbed by NASA “the coolest experiment in the universe.”
Feustel and Arnold ventured outside the orbital outpost on two separate occasions to perform a couple of spacewalks together in May and June, the latter lasting for almost seven hours, the Inquisitr previously reported.
With nine spacewalks under his belt, the former ISS commander ranks third in the U.S. of most cumulative time spent spacewalking, capping in at 61 hours and 48 minutes. Meanwhile, Arnold has braved the cosmos on five occasions, accumulating 32 hours and 4 minutes of spacewalk time.
At the same time, Artemyev conducted one spacewalk during this latest mission, accompanied by fellow cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev. However, their outing ended up being an eight-hour marathon which made headlines in August, as reported by the Inquisitr.
With the three astronauts now safely back on Earth, the ISS is currently being operated by a three-member team. The crew of Expedition 57, helmed by Gerst, is presently comprised of NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, who arrived at the station on June 8. Next week, the astronauts will be joined by Nick Hague of NASA and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, who are due to journey into space on October 11.