Three astronauts are departing the International Space Station after a 168-day mission to make the descent back to Earth. Soyuz MS-07/53S commander Anton Shkaplerov, NASA flight engineer Scott Tingle and Japanese physician-astronaut Norishige Kanai plan to undock from the station’s Earth-facing Rassvet module Sunday to make a parachute-and-rocket-assisted touchdown on the steppe of Kazakhstan near the town of Dzhezkazgan.
Shkaplerov and his crewmates launched their trip to the International Space Station last December 17. Tingle and Kanai will both be completing their first spaceflight. Shkaplerov is a veteran of two earlier station visits totaling a full year. After initial medical checks, Tingle and Kanai will fly back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston while Shkaplerov will travel to Star City near Moscow.
The crew is leaving Expedition 56 commander Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev behind on the International Space Station. During a change-of-command ceremony Friday, Shkaplerov thanked Feustel’s crew for its support and handed over a ceremonial key to the outpost. Feustel then thanked Shkaplerov “for welcoming us to the ISS, taking care of us, making sure we were ready to work when we arrived, you made the transition seamless.”
Feustel, Arnold, and Artemyev flew to the station March 21 aboard the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft. They will have the lab to themselves for just five days before a fresh crew arrives to boost the lab’s crew back to six. The quick rotation will prevent any major interruption of research activity.
Soyuz MS-09/55S commander Sergey Prokopyev, German flight engineer Alexander Gerst, representing the European Space Agency, and NASA physician-astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor are making final preparations for launch. Prokopyev and Auñón-Chancellor will be making their first flights. Gerst spent 165 days aboard the station in 2014.
The three new crew members are scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, 250 miles southwest of Dzhezkazgan, on June 5. They will be catching up with the space station early Friday.
Auñón-Chancellor came to NASA in 2006, working as a contract flight surgeon. She said she was looking forward to conducting a variety of medical research to find out how she is personally affected by the rigors of the space environment. She also is interested in studying vision changes in astronauts who spend long periods in weightlessness.