Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan – A Russian space capsule landed safely in Kazakhstan bringing home a three-person crew from the International Space Station (ISS), including a record-breaking Russian cosmonaut, Gennady Padalka.

The returning astronauts were Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency, nicknamed “Denmark’s Gagarin” after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space; Aidyn Aimbetov, the third Kazakh cosmonaut, both of whom spent less than 10 days in orbit; and Gennady Padalka, 57, who returned from his fifth spaceflight with a record 879 days in orbit. He broke the record of six-time flier Sergei Krikalev, who spend a total of 803 days in space.

Andreas back on Earth. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Soyuz spacecraft commander Gennady Padalka and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov landed 12 September 2015 at 00:51 GMT (02:51 CEST) in the steppe of Kazakhstan, marking the end of their missions to the International Space Station. Photo: Stephane Corvaja/ESA 2015

Their Soyuz TMA-16M capsule landed on schedule at 0651 local time (0051 GMT) Saturday, 146 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Dzhezkazgan. Helicopters and vehicles rushed to the landing area as the capsule descended with a fiery plunge through the Earth’s atmosphere under an orange and white parachute. When the rescue personnel opened the capsule’s hatch they found the smiling crew claiming to feel just fine. The crew was then taken by helicopter to the Astana, where Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev gave them a great reception.

British soprano and aspiring space tourist Sarah Brightman was also expected to join them on the trip to space, but stopped training in May due to family reasons. Her seat was given to Aimbetov. Currently six astronauts remain on the space station as part of a year-long stay in our space, which will be the longest tour of duty in the stations 15-year history.

The Mission

The returning three-men crew made their way back to Earth with key human research experiments, including blood samples for NASA’s “Twins Study,” a research conducted to understand the effects of long spaceflights on astronauts and future NASA’s use of personalized medicine in space. Also, samples for salivary markers and microbiome studies also returned to earth.

As for Mogensen and Aimbetov, during their short time in orbit, they participated in a number of experiments focused on human research, Earth observation and technology development. One very special item was tested in orbit by Mogensen, the Skinsuit. The Skinsuit is designed to help astronauts counteract potential back problems in microgravity. Some astronauts’ spines have lengthen as much as 7 cm in weightlessness which can cause pain. To aid astronauts with the pain, the specially designed overalls simulate gravitational forces from Earth by constricting the body from shoulders to feet.

“Testing this clothing item in space may help astronauts with any back pain they experience on long-duration missions,” Nasa stated.

Samples from one rodent research has also returned home. This study focuses on examining how microgravity affects animals.

More experiments taking place

As for the six remaining astronauts in orbit who will stay one year in space, they are part of NASA and Russian efforts to better understand how microgravity affects human physical and mental health. With this in mind, they can develop the right countermeasures to diminish any harmful effects.

In a decade, NASA aims to send astronauts farther beyond the space station, to a $100 billion orbiting laboratory that would orbit about 250 miles above Earth.

The long-term goal of the US space agency is to send a human expedition to Mars by the 2030s. However, health risks for humans increases the longer they are exposed to a reduced gravity.

Some effects are bone loss and an increased loss of bone minerals that can lead to the risk of bone fractures once back on Earth. Also, the muscle fibres can shrink leaving them weaker.

With just five months in space, astronauts can lose up to 40% of muscle and 12% of bone mass. Imagine a 20-year-old turning into a 60-year-old within a three month period. Moreover, the exposure to space radiation can also leave them at lifelong risk of getting cancer and degenerative illnesses.

Once back on Earth, it takes a year for astronauts to see their bones recover and have to undergo a special rehabilitation programme. Additionally, changes in the environment can also affect their functionality such as their ability to drive and it can affect their health due to their reduced lack of cardio functions while in space.

Source: Reuters