Following a nearly four-month stay on orbit, three astronauts will leave the International Space Station and begin the journey home today. Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will undock from the orbiting outpost at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.
During their 115 days in space, the trio conducted a multitude of science experiments, with Rubins — a biologist by trade — becoming the first person to sequence DNA in microgravity.
The party gets started at 4:45 p.m. Eastern when the trio says good-bye to their other three crew members, who recently arrived on station. They will strap into their ride home — a Russian Soyuz capsule. Several hours later, at 8:37 p.m. Eastern, the vehicle will undock from the station and the crew will spend two and a half hours in orbit. At approximately 11:06 p.m. Eastern, the Soyuz will fire its engines, and begin to descend.
It takes roughly an hour to reach the ground from this point. During re-entry, two of the craft’s three modules will be jettisoned, leaving just the descent module that holds the crew. As it plummets through the atmosphere — racing as fast as 514 miles per hour — a series of parachutes deploys in order to slow the vehicle. Just before touchdown, six thrusters ignite, further slowing the Soyuz and allowing the vehicle to touchdown safely around 11:59 pm. Eastern.
You can watch the whole process on NASA TV beginning with the crew good-byes and closing of the hatch at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Then at 8 p.m. Eastern be sure to tune in for the undocking and landing.
Photos via NASA