Three Space Station Crew Members Return Home To Earth Closing 168-Day Mission

Mysterious new purple aurora named 'Steve' by scientists
Three members of the International Space Station are finally home after months of research. They landed safely on Feb. 28 in Kazakhstan through the Soyuz spacecraft.  ( NASA )

After 168 days of scientific research in the International Space Station, three crew members of Expedition 54 landed safely on Feb. 28 at 9:31 p.m. EST in Kazakhstan.

Aboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft are flight engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, as well as commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos.

During their time in the low-Earth orbit, NASA made history as the crew conducted more than 100 hours of research in just one week.

Highlights include studies on creating fiber optic filaments in microgravity environments, enhancing the accuracy of glucose biosensors, and measuring the amount of energy the Sun emits to the Earth.

Scientific Contributions Of The ISS Crew Members

Individually, each Expedition 54 crew member has made significant contributions to the field of science. For instance, this mission is only Vande Hei's first but he was able to complete a total of four spacewalks throughout his 168-day stay.

He successfully performed maintenance work around the station, including the replacement and lubrication of the Canadarm2's Latching End Effectors.

Acaba, meanwhile, finished one spacewalk for the lubrication of an effector and installation of new cameras outside the facility. He accumulated a total of 306 days in space.

Together, the two astronauts participated in more than a dozen of significant learning events aboard the ISS under NASA's Year of Education on Station program.

Misurkin spent the longest time aboard the space station, by logging 334 days. Along with his fellow cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, he made one spacewalk in February which ranked as the longest in the history of Roscosmos.

For eight hours and 13 minutes, the Russian pair replaced an electronics box of the Zvezda module's communications antenna.

Return To The Home Planet

The Soyuz spacecraft departed the ISS right on schedule at 6:08 p.m. EST. It plunged through the atmosphere three hours later at a speed of five miles per second but was left undamaged because of a heat shield capable of enduring temperatures over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

After decelerating with a force three times stronger than the Earth's gravity, the Russian module began slowing down and then deployed the main parachute to make a landing southeast of Dzhekazgan, Kazakhstan.

"All three appeared healthy and in good spirits, smiling and chatting with recovery crews amid satellite phone calls to family and friends," states a report.

Duties Of Remaining Crew Members

Immediately after the Soyuz spacecraft undocked from the station, Expedition 55 automatically began aboard. Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Scott Tingle of NASA, and Norishige Kanai of JAXA will continue operating the station until the arrival of three new crew members by March 23.

NASA has announced Feb. 22 that Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos together with Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel of NASA will head out to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 21 to complete the new ISS crew.

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