After a six month tour in space, three astronauts are heading back to Earth. In a change of command ceremony, the European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst of the International Space Station’s Expedition 57, passed the reins of the ISS yesterday (Dec. 18) to Roscosmos’s Oleg Kononenko, station commander of Expedition 58.
What was ISS Expedition 57?
Gerst, along with Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev, and NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor were three of the six-person team that made up Expedition 57. In their time on the ISS, the three made over 3,000 orbits. All the while, they kept the ISS running for its 18th continuous year of human inhabitance, and performed 300 science experiments spanning disciplines from climate change and medical research on cancer to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and quantum physics. They’ve also seen their fair share of challenges: in August, they discovered a small air leak behind a spacecraft toilet, and ended up staying on the ISS a bit longer than previously planned after the failed launch of Soyuz MS-10 in October.
Expedition 58 members arrived two and a half weeks ago, working with Gerst, Prokopyev, and Auñón-Chancellor to learn how to take over. “It’s time to go home and meet your families,” said Kononenko, after receiving a symbolic “key” to the ISS from Gerst in the ceremony. “We wish you godspeed and a soft landing.”
Soon, the three will begin their journey back to the ground.
When will the ISS crew head back to Earth?
At 4:45pm US eastern time today (Dec. 19), the Expedition 57 crew will begin saying their goodbyes, with their return spacecraft hatch closing at 5:30pm.
By 8:40pm, they’ll have undocked, and should be landing in Kazakhstan just after midnight, where they will be flown by helicopter to a NASA staging area in that country, then flown back home.
You can watch live on NASA TV, and follow along on the ISS’s Twitter page.
How you can see the ISS in the night sky
Gerst encouraged viewers to keep an eye on the ISS from Earth. NASA maintains a website where you can track its location, telling you where and when to keep an eye out for it in your night sky.
The ISS “is the only place humans have outside of planet Earth where humans can live,” said Gerst. “If you see it, think about how humans built this—that there will be three humans living here, out of the 7 billion humans down on Earth. Give these guys a wave when you see them.”