The Expedition 39 crew is back from their recent mission, having spent 188 days in orbit. They’ve completed 3,00 orbits of Earth since November, when they departed Earth for the International Space Station. Their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft touched down in Kazakhstan at 7:58am Kazakh time.
Their Soyuz craft, commanded by Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, unlocked from the Rassvet (RussianSpace Agency) module roughly 13 hours ahead of touch-down on Earth. They were roughly 261 miles over Mongolia when they broke free, and the de-orbit took just under five minutes.
This punctuates recent tensions between Russia and the US, with Russia swearing off US personnel from the Space Station. Though this mission was scheduled to end as it did, it could be among the last to operate via the ISS for the United States. The US wanted to extend the project beyond 2020, but Russia is currently turning their back. The US depends on Russian rockets to get Astronauts to the space station.
Saying they “don’t trust” the “unreliable” US as a partner, Russia is prepared to let the ISS partnership end in 2020. Others like SpaceX are planning to privatize rocketry for use by NASA, but their work is years away from being reliable. At this point, tensions in Crimea and the Ukraine have put a dim tone on space exploration.
The Soyuz spacecraft carried microbiomes, meant to study the impact of space travel on microbes living on our bodies, as well as our immune system. The study is an ongoing effort to research health impacts of those in extreme conditions on Earth, and help with disease detection.