Three astronauts descended 250 miles to touch down in the desert near the city of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Monday. Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, both Russian cosmonauts, and NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough made a clean landing in their Russian spacecraft, the Soyuz MS-02. Thanks to the accuracy of the descent — the craft landed just as planned — cameras were able to film the incoming capsule.
“It was a textbook touchdown,” Rob Navias, a NASA spokesman said in TV commentary after the landing, as Space.com reported. “The Soyuz was pulled by its main parachute onto its side, but the crew was quickly extracted and are in good shape.”
The landing's precise nature was a testament to how far we've come since the early days of spaceflight. The second American in space, Gus Grissom, almost drowned in the Atlantic in 1961 when his capsule, “Liberty Bell 7,” plopped into the ocean and began to flood with seawater. (He maintained that there was a malfunction, contrary to insinuations that he panicked and triggered the escape hatch too early.) “Liberty Bell 7" sank, exiled to the ocean floor until a salvage boat recovered it in 1999.
There was no such indignity for the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. The recent touchdown had more than a touch of drama — the footage ends with an explosion of brown dust as the capsule's retrorockets fired — but the astronauts can be seen grinning and shaking hands moments after personnel lift them out of the capsule.
With the Soyuz MS-02's return came the end of the International Space Station's Expedition 50. Kimbrough and his crewmates had logged 173 days, just under half a year, in space on this mission.
Along the way, the astronauts on the space station completed 2,768 orbits of the planet — a voyage of some 73.2 million miles.
After the Soyuz undocked from the ISS, the station's Expedition 51 officially began. The Earthbound astronauts bid farewell to three colleagues who remained on the station: cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, the European Space Agency's Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is now the first woman to command two missions aboard the ISS and who is about to set a record for spending more time in space than any other U.S. astronaut.