On 10 April, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko and Robert Kimbrough returned from the ISS on board Soyuz MS-02. Three astronauts remain on board the space station, namely Oleg Novitskiy, Peggy Whitson and the French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
A new crew changeover has begun on the International Space Station. An ISS Expedition is comprised of 6 astronauts who arrive in groups of 3 on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft 3 months apart and stay for around 6 months. However, due to cost-cutting by the Russians, the next Expedition will have 5 members instead of 6.
Return of Thomas Pesquet’s EVA colleague
Hence, on 10 April, the Russians Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko and the American Robert “Shane” Kimbrough returned to Earth after 173 days on orbit. Their Soyuz MS-02 landed on the Kazakh steppe as planned at 17:20h local time.
The NASA video below shows a summary of their return.
It was with the American Shane Kimbrough that the French European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet completed his first spacewalk on 6 January. For his second spacewalk outside the ISS on 24 March, he was also accompanied by Kimbrough who has now totalled 6 EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity, in NASA jargon). He conducted a seventh on 30 March with his compatriot Peggy Whitson. Thomas Pesquet heralded the return of his EVA partner and Russian colleagues on Twitter.
In the ESA video below, 2 astronauts from the agency explain how a Soyuz returns to Earth (French subtitles available by clicking the subtitle button in the bottom right of the window).
With the return of MS-02, Expedition 51 of the International Space Station officially begins. For the moment, the crew is comprised of the trio of Peggy Whitson (Commander), Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet, in space since November 2016 (a launch that was the subject of a special event at the Cité de l’Espace and a video series entitled En Direct avec Thomas Pesquet).
Expedition 51 will be completed with the launch from Baikonur on 20 April of the Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin and the American Jack Fischer on board Soyuz MS-04. So, there will be 5 crew members instead of the normal 6 on board the space station. This is due to the Russian agency Roscosmos’ desire to cut the number of cosmonauts on orbit in order to make savings.
As previously explained, since Soyuz MS-04 will have an empty seat, Peggy Whitson will use it to return to Earth in September, three months later than planned. So, on 2 June, her outbound flight companions, Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet, will return without her.
The Astronaut Expo at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse is currently offering everyone the chance to understand the challenges that the men and women who accomplish such missions encounter in space.