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:
2. At 4:40 p.m. ET, the hatch to the Soyuz will be closed and the crew will perform a series of leak checks to make sure everything is ready to go.
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.
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.
6. Parachutes will deploy before the Soyuz touches down in a remote part of Kazakhstan at around 11:25 pm ET.
Search-and-recovery helicopters will already be in the area.
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.
Gotta be careful of that burned hunk of metal right there.
8. The search-and-recovery team will land, make sure everything looks good, and orient the capsule before pulling the astronauts out.
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.
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.
10. This downtime will be the first chance the astronauts have to use a satellite phone to call friends and family.
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.
12. Then, each astronaut will be loaded into their own helicopter and flown to an airport in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
13. At the airport there will be a brief ceremony before the Russian and American astronauts go their separate ways.
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.
“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.
Safe travels, Commander Kelly!
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