MOSCOW – Russian spacecraft Soyuz MS-09 with three crew members onboard landed successfully in Kazakhstan on Thursday, the European Space Agency said.
Russian astronaut Sergey Prokopyev, United States’ Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the NASA, and German Alexander Gerst of the ESA, returned from the International Space Station in the spacecraft after staying in space for 197 days.
Soyuz touched down at 0502 GMT (11:02 am local time) around 140 kilometers (87 miles), southeast of the city of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan, as planned.
The Russian Mission Control Center said the astronauts were feeling well and were being evacuated from the descent capsule.
“A number of scientific experiments also returned to Earth alongside the crew in the Soyuz,” ESA said in a statement.
They have brought back a number of specimens which contain results of scientific experiments, including human cartilage tissue and a rodent’s thyroid gland produced with a bio-printer.
However, for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the most awaited sample is a piece of the protective casing of the spacecraft itself, which will help in solving the mystery of a small hole in its orbital module, made with a drill, which caused an atmospheric leak in the ISS.
On Aug. 30, the crew members of the space platform detected a loss in pressure, originating from the two-millimeter hole in the orbital module, which was subsequently sealed.
In order to find out how the hole came into existence, Prokopyev and his Russian colleague Oleg Kononenko carried out a seven hour 45 minutes-long space walk and extracted the piece of the casing with the hole.
The extraction was necessitated because the rest of the orbital module of the aircraft was to be destroyed upon re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Kononenko, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and American Anne McClain are the three people currently stationed at the ISS, and will be joined by three other crew members on March 1, 2019.
The ISS, a 16-nation project representing an investment of more than $150 billion, currently comprises of 14 permanent modules, and orbits the Earth at a speed of more than 27,000 kph (16,800 mph).