US Astronaut and Two Fellow Station Crew Members Return to Earth Via Soyuz

Early on Saturday morning, a Russian Soyuz ferry ship left the International Space Station and returned to Earth, landing a NASA astronaut, a Belarusian guest pilot, and a Russian cosmonaut in a picture-perfect landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan.

At 3:17 a.m. EDT, Soyuz MS-24/70S commander Oleg Novitskiy landed around 90 miles east of the town of Dzhezkazgan, with NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara on the right and Belarusian Marina Vasilevskaya on the left.

Recovery crews from Russia arrived on the site in a matter of minutes, helping the station passengers who were returning to acclimate to gravity and get out of their little Soyuz descent module.

For seasoned pilot Novitskiy and novice Vasilevskaya, the transition back should be quite simple. Along with NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson, they launched on March 23 aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft, and two days later they docked at the station.

They were only on the station for two weeks before leaving on the older Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft, which last September transported O’Hara, Nikolai Chub, and station commander Oleg Kononenko to the lab complex.

Chub and Kononenko are halfway through their year-long sojourn in space. They intend to use the new MS-25 spacecraft that Novitskiy provided to return to Earth in September of next year, along with Dyson. O’Hara was returned to Earth by Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya on the older ferry ship that she had launched in September of last year.

After arriving at Earth, O’Hara had spent 204 days orbiting the sun, traveling 86.6 million miles in 3,264 orbits. She took part in a six-hour, forty-two-minute spacewalk as well. Novitskiy and Vasilevskya spent 14 days in space traveling 5,9 million miles and 224 orbits.

While they sat on recliners close to their burnt Soyuz descent spacecraft, receiving attention from support staff, all three appeared well.

Vasilevskaya stated on NASA TV, “I’m overwhelmed with emotions,” via a translator. “It’s something incredible. I wish all people on Earth to treasure and cherish what they have, because this is precious.”

Their stay on the station lasted barely two weeks, since they were flown to the lab complex last September aboard an earlier Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft along with O’Hara, Nikolai Chub, and station commander Oleg Kononenko.

The midway point of Chub and Kononenko’s year-long space expedition has passed. They plan to bring Dyson and themselves back to Earth in September of next year using the new MS-25 spaceship that Novitskiy provided. Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya brought O’Hara down to Earth on the older ferry that she had launched in September of the previous year.

She then on, “I thank all people of Belarus,” “We actually wanted to stay a little longer, but it’s great to be back. It was awesome to be on board the station.”

Vasilevskaya is the first citizen of Belarus, a close ally of Russia, to fly in space since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She is a skilled ballroom dancer and flight attendant with Belavia Airlines.

The United States and Russia continue to work together in space, co-managing the International Space Station, even though their relations are still at or close to Cold War levels.

Prior to the launch, Dyson expressed her satisfaction with Vasilevskaya’s training, saying, “she’s been a real delight to work with.”

The three were to be taken to Karaganda by helicopter following quick medical examinations and satellite phone conversations to friends and relatives back home. After that, Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya will return to Star City, which is close to Moscow, while O’Hara will take a NASA flight back to Houston.

The astronauts from NASA, Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt, and Jeanette Epps, as well as cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin and ISS commander Kononenko, Chub, and Dyson, were abandoned in orbit.

After a difficult series of flights to swap out five of the space station’s seven long-duration crew members, O’Hara’s return to Earth was completed.

On March 3, NASA launched a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying Dominick, Barratt, Epps, and Grebenkin to the station for the first time. They took the place of four other pilots who boarded a Crew Dragon and returned to Earth.

This made it possible for Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya, and Dyson to launch, carrying O’Hara back to Earth and a new Soyuz to the station with the NASA veteran.