It was just above freezing on a desolate plain in Kazakhstan, but Scott Kelly didn’t mind. “The air feels great out here, I have no idea why you guys are so bundled up!” he joked to search and rescue crews swarming over the Russian made Soyuz spacecraft that had brought him home from the International Space Station after 340 days in space.
Kelly touched down at 11:26 p.m. Eastern time on March 1 in a Soyuz spacecraft, packed in with two Russian colleagues, Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov. Kornienko and Kelly spent almost an entire year in space, the longest continuous mission to the ISS in history.
The three were greeted by an enthusiastic horde of rescue crews, press, and other astronauts, including Volkov’s father, former cosmonaut Aleksandr Volkov, who stood by the Soyuz capsule waiting for his son to emerge.
“They did it, they’re back from a year in space, and they stuck the landing,” said Rob Navias, a public affairs officer for NASA who rode out to the Soyuz capsule’s landing site on a remote plain in Kazakhstan with search and rescue teams sent to recover the astronauts. “It’s ‘Selfieville’ out here, with all of the recovery teams taking pictures of themselves and of each other.”
Kelly and Kornienko’s mission is vital to future space endeavors, as researchers can extensively study what happens to the human body during of a long period of time in a high radiation, micro-gravity environment. The three space travelers were immediately taken to a science and medical tent to begin examinations and tests.
Navias remarked that Kelly looked “hale and hearty” after his spaceflight, and the astronaut told his flight surgeon that he didn’t feel “much different than five years ago,” the last time he descended to Earth from space.
Kornienko felt fine as well.
“Let me go to a sauna down here and then I can fly again,” he quipped.
Kelly handed over command of the ISS to another American, Tim Kopra, on February 29. He’ll head home to the Johnson Space Center in Texas over the following days, but his mission is far from over, as the intensive science and research of his year-long journey through the cosmos is about to begin.
Let’s hope he gets some vacation time too.