The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, has begun providing live coverage on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app of the undocking and departure from the International Space Station of the Soyuz spacecraft that will return Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov to Earth.
The three cosmonauts departed from the Soyuz MS-21 crew ship and undocked from the Prichal module at 3:34 a.m. EDT Thursday. Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev, flanked by Flight Engineers Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, soars through Earth’s atmosphere and parachutes inside the Soyuz vehicle to land in Kazakhstan at 6:57 a.m. (4:57 p.m. Kazakh time), ending a six-month mission.
On March 18, the trio boarded the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft and traveled to the station. On his third trip, Artemyev spends 185 days in space before returning to Earth. Artemyev has spent 551 days in space across his three journeys by the time he lands. Matveev and Korsakov both made their first flight on this occasion. The two cosmonauts will have spent a total of 185 days in orbit by the time they touch down.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the returnees, the Soyuz spacecraft was undocked from the International Space Station at 3:34 a.m. EDT, carrying three people back to Earth. Expedition 68 officially began aboard the station at the time of undocking. Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA is the station commander for the crew consisting of NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Frank Rubio, and Jessica Watkins, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.
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The station’s newest cosmonauts, Flight Engineers Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, supported the homebound trio during the night during the crew farewell and hatch shutting procedures. Samantha Cristoforetti, an astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA), will also be on hand to monitor station operations as the Soyuz crew vehicle heads toward Earth.
Earlier on Wednesday, while the remainder of the station crew gathered for the customary Change of Command ceremony, Cristoforetti took over Artemyev’s duties as station commander. Together with Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins from the SpaceX Dragon Freedom, she will serve as the station’s commander until her scheduled October departure.