50th space station expedition returns to Earth in textbook landing.
After more than 173 days in space and 2,768 orbits of the Earth, the crew of Expedition 50 returned to Earth Monday, April 10. NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough along with Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko undocked the International Space Station at 3:57am EDT to begin their journey home.
The Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft performed a deorbit burn at 6:28am, jettisoned the Orbital and Service modules 30 minutes later, and landed at approximately 7:20am. Landing occurred in the Soyuz’s prime landing zone in the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Unlike other spacecraft that return to Earth, Soyuz is equipped with six small thrusters that fire less than a second before touchdown to ensure a softer landing. These thrusters are covered by the capsule’s heat shield during flight, which is jettisoned shortly after the main parachute is deployed.
The thrusters can be seen in the gif above, which is a compilation of images taken by NASA chief photographer Bill Ingalls (@ingallsimages ) from an airborne recovery helicopter.
Soyuz’s return to Earth not only ended the 50th expedition to the orbiting laboratory since 2000 but also the temporary reduction of the station’s crew to three. Expedition 51 crewmembers Peggy Whitson, Thomas Pesquet, and Oleg Novitskiy will remain the station’s sole residents until the Soyuz MS-04 crew of Expedition 51/52 arrive on April 20.
However, due to reduced funding from Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, Soyuz MS-04 will only be carrying two crewmembers, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. This lack of funding will reduce the station’s operational compliment to five for an undetermined period of time.
P/C: NASA/Bill Ingalls.