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Here’s What It’s Like To Return To Earth After A Year In Space

The hours and days after Scott Kelly detaches from the International Space Station will be super busy.

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BuzzFeed Science spoke with NASA spokesperson Dan Huot at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to get a play-by-play of what Kelly and his crew-mates will be going through to get home:

1. First, Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov will strap themselves in to a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station.


A Soyuz is a capsule that the Russian space agency uses to ferry people to and from the station. Things get pretty tight inside.


3. At 8:05 p.m. ET, the Soyuz will detach from the Space Station and slowly back away with some thrusters.


The Soyuz is aiming to hit a specific coordinate in Kazakhstan, so the thrusters will drive the craft to the exact position it needs to be in to hit that target.

4. The Soyuz will then perform a "de-orbit burn", using thrusters to slow it down until it enters Earth's atmosphere.

CSA / Via

The capsule will also separate into three parts, two of which will burn up before reaching the ground. Only the middle part, which contains the astronauts, has a heat shield.


7. After that, the crew will just kinda chill in the capsule as the search-and-recovery forces locate and land right next to them.

9. The ground team will set up an inflatable tent for medical checks and place the astronauts into some comfy chairs as they do some preliminary exams.

Ivan Sekretarev / AFP / Getty Images

The doctors move in once the astronauts are seated, Huot said. The medical team will do basic stuff like heart readings and general wellness exams before bringing the astronauts to the tent for blood drawings and other more detailed tests.


11. In the tent, the astronauts will perform some basic tests to see what people who haven't experienced gravity in a year are capable of.


This will help NASA plan future missions to Mars. The tasks are very basic — things like standing up on your own, lying down and getting back up, recovering from a fall, and moving around basic obstacles. "When you send people to Mars, there's no search-and-recover force," said Huot.


14. Kelly will then be loaded onto a NASA aircraft and flown right to Houston. They want to rush him to the lab before he fully adjusts to life back on Earth.

Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images

"Your body starts to adapt really quickly, so the closer we get to taking samples and things like that from him to when he was in space the better," Huot said. He will be back in Houston about 24 hours after his touchdown in Kazakhstan.

15. When Kelly gets off the plane, he will be greeted by his family, NASA officials, and Dr. Jill Biden before being swept away to the lab.


He will be subject to extensive testing for the next two weeks, and will continue with further tests throughout the year and beyond!

Science Writer, Fossil Beastmaster

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