A Trio of Space Explorers' Safe Return Home

Following 165 days in orbit—a time that saw two private space endeavors burst into flames—the landing was, by NASA’s account, “flawless.”

Ground personnel carry International Space Station crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany shortly after landing near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Warmly wrapped in thermal blankets and with his hand raised toward the sky, Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev flashed a V for “victory” after successfully landing onto frost-covered Kazakhstani soil after a three-and-a-half-hour journey from the International Space Station.

Suraev was the first of three space explorers from Expedition-40 and 41 to emerge from the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft on a frigid 23-degree Fahrenheit Monday morning. Following 165 days in orbit—a time that saw two private space endeavors burst into flames—the Soyuz’s landing was, by NASA’s account, simply “flawless.”

The capsule that carried Suraev as well as the European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst and NASA’s Reid Wiseman, touched down at 10:58 p.m. EST (9:58 a.m. Kazakh local time) after a 56-minute decent. At first the craft landed upright following a gentle flame-filled thrust from its landing engines that dispersed a puff of dirt and sand beneath it. Then the brisk winds grabbed the craft’s parachute and tipped it onto its side–a sight not typically seen, according to a NASA spokesperson.

Thick clouds and fog slightly delayed the helicopters making the retrieval. After Suraev, German volcanologist Alexander Gerst was next to greet the recovery team that rendezvoused with the spacecraft, and then Reid Wiseman. The Navy test pilot-now-astronaut spent a large portion of his time on the ISS entrancing earthlings below with spectacular tweets of their home as seen from space.

After 35 minutes the entire crew was extracted from the vessel, looking hale and hearty. The recovery team first placed the astronauts into nearby chairs so they could regain their equilibrium, and then brought them to an orange inflatable medical tent to undergo field tests and exercises.

“It is as much an endurance test as it is a test of technical prowess,” a NASA spokesperson said of the team’s landing during a Livestream.

After six weightless months in space, more than 70 million miles journeyed over 2,640 orbits, and a record amount of scientific research conducted along with several space walks, the team members needed to reacquaint themselves with gravity. Their checkup will also help NASA better understand how well astronauts can function after returning to Earth.

“Here we have [Russia], Germany and the U.S., we have worked together for half a year. Everything was fine, and everything was in the spirit of cooperation,” said Suraev through a translator. Relations between the U.S. and Russia became strained following Vladimir Putin's military actions in Crimea and almost jeopardized the mission. He said that the trio’s actions on the ISS should inspire international endeavors across the world. “Let’s just work together side by side—this is the most important thing to get good results, let’s set a good example.”