Canadian David Saint-Jacques, Russian Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain have landed in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule after the 6½-hour return trip to Earth from the International Space Station.
The capsule landed upright and the crew were in good health, NASA TV reported.
CBC’s Chris Brown, reporting just metres from the landing site, said about 200 people were around the capsule, including health officials and people who had been prepared for emergencies. However, he said the landing appeared to go off without a hitch, with the capsule and its parachute appearing in the sky over central Kazakhstan exactly on time. The sound of the parachute deploying was heard a couple of seconds later.
The three crew members were pulled out of the capsule one by one before being offered apples and fluids, as well as access to a satellite phone.
Saint-Jacques appeared nauseous
Of the three crewmembers, Saint-Jacques appeared to be faring the worst. “David smiled but it was a forced one, because he was extremely nauseous,” Brown said, adding that he seemed otherwise healthy. That was in contrast to McClain, who appeared exuberant and said she was ready to do it all again.
The astronauts were put on camping chairs in the sun just by the capsule for a respite and initial medical checks.
Touchdown! <a href=”https://twitter.com/AstroAnnimal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AstroAnnimal</a>, <a href=”https://twitter.com/Astro_DavidS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Astro_DavidS</a> and Oleg Kononenko of <a href=”https://twitter.com/roscosmos?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Roscosmos</a> have completed a 204-day space station mission right on time with a landing at 10:47pm ET. <a href=”https://t.co/mZzxaYxR0F”>https://t.co/mZzxaYxR0F</a> <a href=”https://t.co/lKHcUbcgbL”>pic.twitter.com/lKHcUbcgbL</a>
When asked by a reporter on site if he liked the weather, Kononenko said he was “happy to see any kind of weather” after spending over 200 days in space.
The crew is expected to be taken to a local airport by helicopter after medical examination and fly to their home bases.
Longest spaceflight by a Canadian
Saint-Jacques’ mission began ahead of schedule on Dec. 3, when he was part of the first crewed Soyuz mission following a rocket mishap last October that forced a spacecraft carrying two astronauts to abort and make an emergency landing.
The native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days.
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the three astronauts undocked from the space station without incident from the orbiting laboratory at 7:25 p.m. ET Monday before landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 10:47 p.m.
Saint-Jacques, 49, took part in a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk in April and a “cosmic catch” of SpaceX Dragon cargo using Canadarm2 — the first time a Canadian astronaut has operated the robotic arm to perform the feat.
Looking forward to family time
The engineer, astrophysicist and family doctor also oversaw science experiments and had numerous discussions with kids across the country during his mission.
In his final days, Saint-Jacques said he was refamiliarizing himself with the Soyuz craft that has been parked for the duration of their stay and was to take them home starting Monday afternoon. He tweeted over the weekend the craft was in fine form despite being parked for six months.
“It will take a few hours but we’ll fall back to Earth — literally,” Saint-Jacques explained to reporters last week. “After crossing into Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes will open, we’ll land in Kazakhstan and be picked up by Russian team and taken to the airport where we’ll return to Houston to be reunited with our families.”
The married father of three young children said he was looking forward to seeing his family again.
Saint-Jacques’s recovery top of mind for CSA
Saint-Jacques told reporters he’s aware of the physical challenges that await after six months in zero gravity, including blood circulation problems, muscle pains and an elongated spine that will return to normal. It could mean trouble walking and moving around for a while.
Saint-Jacques’ recovery is first and foremost on the minds of Canadian Space Agency officials.
“A big aspect for us here at the agency is to prepare his return in the next few weeks — rehabilitation, physical reconditioning, adapting back to life at 1G,” said Gilles Leclerc, the agency’s director of space exploration.
Saint-Jacques is expected to take part in a news conference on Friday from Houston and will return to Canada in mid-July to visit the agency, just south of Montreal.
As for the next mission, Leclerc said negotiations are underway to have another member of the corps serve aboard the International Space Station before 2024.