Monday, September 26

Astronauts return to Earth after 200 days in space


Four astronauts, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, returned to Earth on Monday after a 200-day space station mission that began last spring.

His capsule streaked through the night sky like a dazzling meteor before parachuting into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. The recovery boats moved quickly with floodlights.

“On behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to Planet Earth,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed from Southern California. Within an hour, all four astronauts were out of the capsule.

His return home, which came just eight hours after leaving the International Space Station, paved the way for SpaceX’s launch of its four replacements on Wednesday night.

The newcomers were scheduled to launch first, but NASA changed the order due to bad weather and an astronaut’s undisclosed medical condition. Welcoming duties will now fall to the only American and two Russians left on the space station.

Before undocking on Monday afternoon, German astronaut Matthias Maurer, who is awaiting launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, tweeted that it was a shame the two crews did not overlap on the space station, but “we trust that will leave everything well and orderly “.

His will be the SpaceX crew’s fourth flight for NASA in just 18 months.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese Akihiko Hoshide and Pesquet should have returned Monday morning, but strong winds in the recovery zone delayed their return.

“One more night with this magical sight. Who could complain? I will miss our spaceship! “Pesquet tweeted Sunday along with a short video showing the space station illuminated against the darkness of space and the twinkling lights of the city on the night side of Earth.

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It was not the most comfortable return trip. The toilet in their capsule was broken, leaving the astronauts to rely on diapers for the eight-hour journey home. They shrugged late last week as just one more challenge on their mission.

The first problem arose shortly after taking off in April; Mission Control warned that a piece of space debris threatened to collide with its capsule. It turned out to be a false alarm. Then, in July, the thrusters of a newly arrived Russian laboratory inadvertently ignited and started the station. The four astronauts took refuge in their docked SpaceX capsule, ready to launch a hasty departure if necessary.

Among the optimistic milestones: four spacewalks to improve the station’s solar energy, a visit by a Russian film crew for film making, and the first space harvest of chile peppers.

The next crew will also spend six months there, welcoming back-to-back tour groups.

A Japanese tycoon and his personal assistant will receive a lift from the Russian Space Agency in December, followed by three businessmen who will arrive via SpaceX in February. SpaceX’s first privately chartered flight, in September, bypassed the space station.

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s chief of space operations, said engineers would assess the lagged inflation of one of the four main parachutes, something that is seen in tests when lines are grouped together. However, overall, “the return seemed flawless.”

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see all four of the crew back on Earth,” she added, “and I’m looking forward to launching another group of four this week.”

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