Record Breaking NASA Astronaut to Return to Earth on Wednesday Aboard Russian Soyuz as Private Mission to ISS Looms

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei studies cotton genetics for the Plant Habitat-5 space agriculture experiment. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Three Expedition 66 Flight Engineers are returning to Earth in less than two days as four private astronauts prepare for their mission to the International Space Station. The crew activities haven’t stopped the ongoing space research as the orbital residents studied biology, botany, and physics on Monday.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is nearing the end of his mission as he prepares to return to Earth on Wednesday after a NASA-record breaking 355 days in space. Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov will lead Vande Hei and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov inside the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship when they undock from the Rassvet module at 3:21 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. The trio will parachute to a landing just over four hours later.

Pilot Larry Connor, mission commander Michael López-Alegría, mission specialist Mark Pathy, and mission specialist Eytan Stibbe.

The next mission to the orbiting lab will be the Axiom Space-1 mission, or Ax-1, carrying a former NASA astronaut and three U.S. crew members. Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria will be making his fifth visit to space and his third visit to the space station while commanding the first private mission for Axiom Space. He will lead first time space visitors Pilot Larry Connor and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy aboard Endeavour, during the vehicle’s second mission to the station.

NASA teams supporting the Artemis I mission polled “go” today to proceed with the wet dress rehearsal, planned for Friday, April 1, through Sunday, April 3, on Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA, Axiom and SpaceX are now looking at no earlier than April 6 for the launch of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the first  private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, pending range approval. For an April 6 launch, Ax-1 static fire would take place April 4. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission remains scheduled to launch no earlier than Tuesday, April 19.

Invited guests and NASA employees take photos as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is rolled out of High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ahead of NASA’s Artemis I flight test, the fully stacked and integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will undergo a wet dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 39B to verify systems and practice countdown procedures for the first launch. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Science is always ongoing aboard the station whether its crew members tending to experiments, or scientists uploading commands, or even investigations that are designed to run autonomously.

Monday’s research program aboard the station covered human research, space botany and glass optics. NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron helped researchers understand how astronauts manipulate objects possibly informing the design of spacecraft interfaces for a variety of gravity environments. The duo also joined astronauts Tom Marshburn of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) for a standard vision test using an eye chart.

Chari also harvested cotton cultures grown for the Plant Habitat-05 experiment and prepared them for return analysis back on Earth. Marshburn serviced samples for a physics study exploring using artificial intelligence to improve the development of advanced glass optics with implications for Earth and space industries.

The orbiting lab’s three newest crew members spent the day on a variety of activities in the Russian segment including an exercise study, ventilation maintenance, and station familiarization activities. Cosmonauts Oleg ArtemyevSergey Korsakov, and Denis Matveev are in the second week of a six-and-a-half-month mission that began on March 18.

After successfully completing a spacewalk March 23 at the International Space Station, a thin layer of water was discovered on the inner surface of the helmet and on an absorption pad inside ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer’s helmet following airlock re-pressurization. The water found was more than normal. The space station crew expedited Maurer’s helmet removal and then gathered data in coordination with ground support teams. The space station team is looking into the cause, and any possible fixes that might be needed.

The station crew members remain in good health, and they are continuing their daily activities of science and maintenance. Key objectives were completed during the spacewalk, and there are no planned U.S operating segment spacewalks in the near future as a part of normal station operations. Crew safety is a top priority for NASA. The agency and our international partners are constantly identifying and mitigating risks of human spaceflight.