Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and crewmates return to Earth aboard Soyuz
Canadian David Saint-Jacques, Russian Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain have landed in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule after the 6½-hour return trip to Earth from the International Space Station.
The capsule landed upright and the crew were in good health, NASA TV reported.
CBC's Chris Brown, reporting just metres from the landing site, said about 200 people were around the capsule, including health officials. The three crew members were pulled out of the capsule one by one before offered apples and fluids, as well as access to a satellite phone.
Saint-Jacques' mission began ahead of schedule on Dec. 3, when he was part of the first crewed Soyuz mission following a rocket mishap last October that forced a spacecraft carrying two astronauts to abort and make an emergency landing.
The native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days.
Touchdown! @AstroAnnimal, @Astro_DavidS and Oleg Kononenko of @Roscosmos have completed a 204-day space station mission right on time with a landing at 10:47pm ET. https://t.co/mZzxaYxR0F pic.twitter.com/lKHcUbcgbL—@Space_Station
The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the three astronauts undocked from the space station without incident from the orbiting laboratory at 7:25 p.m. ET Monday before landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 10:47 p.m.
Saint-Jacques, 49, took part in a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk in April and a "cosmic catch" of SpaceX Dragon cargo using Canadarm2 — the first time a Canadian astronaut has operated the robotic arm to perform the feat.
The engineer, astrophysicist and family doctor also oversaw science experiments and had numerous discussions with kids across the country during his mission.
Welcome back to earth David Saint-Jacques. We are so glad that you are safely back. Congratulations on a remarkable job on board he International Space Station (ISS) during six months. 204 days in space. Well done, @Astro_DavidS!—@GGJuliePayette
In his final days, Saint-Jacques said he was refamiliarizing himself with the Soyuz craft that has been parked for the duration of their stay and was to take them home starting Monday afternoon. He tweeted over the weekend the craft was in fine form despite being parked for six months.
"It will take a few hours but we'll fall back to Earth — literally," Saint-Jacques explained to reporters last week. "After crossing into Earth's atmosphere, the parachutes will open, we'll land in Kazakhstan and be picked up by Russian team and taken to the airport where we'll return to Houston to be reunited with our families."
Challenges await after 6 months in zero gravity
The married father of three young children said he was looking forward to seeing his family again.
Saint-Jacques told reporters he's aware of the physical challenges that await after six months in zero gravity, including blood circulation problems, muscle pains and an elongated spine that will return to normal. It could mean trouble walking and moving around for a while.
Saint-Jacques' recovery is first and foremost on the minds of Canadian Space Agency officials.
"A big aspect for us here at the agency is to prepare his return in the next few weeks — rehabilitation, physical reconditioning, adapting back to life at 1G," said Gilles Leclerc, the agency's director of space exploration.
Saint-Jacques is expected to take part in a news conference on Friday from Houston and will return to Canada in mid-July to visit the agency, just south of Montreal.
As for the next mission, Leclerc said negotiations are underway to have another member of the corps serve aboard the International Space Station before 2024.