For Returning Space Flyers, a Fur Chair and an Apple
When returning to Earth on Russian spacecraft, astronauts are in for some special welcoming traditions including fur-lined chairs and fresh apples.
When a Soyuz touches down on the steppes of Kazakhstan, a recovery team races to the scene and pulls out the crew, carrying them over to comfy, furry chairs. After long-term stays in weightlessness which can cause serious muscle atrophy and bone weakening astronauts are strongly discouraged from immediately standing or walking.
American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who landed with two cosmonaut colleagues Sept. 25 after six months aboard the International Space Station, knew all about the pampering that awaited her.
"I'm really looking forward to being extracted from the Soyuz right where we're supposed to land and getting carried like a princess to my fur chair," she said in a recent video, before leaving the space station. "I've seen it happen dozens of times on television, and I simply can't wait to feel what that chair is like."
Traditionally, space flyers landing in Kazakhstan also each get an apple right away, according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias of Johnson Space Center in Houston. Fresh produce is a treat for space flyers after months of eating mostly processed and preserved food.
A quick check-up
Touching down isn't all apples and fur-lined chairs, though: There's serious business to attend to, like making sure those returning to Earth are in good health. Medical personnel give astronauts a once-over right near the Soyuz capsule.
"The Russians erect an inflatable medical tent at the landing site," Navias told SPACE.com. "They do a set of fundamental medical tests."
More thorough medical assessments and treatments for the space flyers come later.
"When they get back to their respective centers, they'll begin extensive rehabilitation programs," Navias said.
After they return home, NASA puts its astronauts through a customized exercise program that emphasizes strength and aerobic fitness, officials have said. These workouts are designed to help them recover the muscle and bone mass they may have lost in orbit.
Most astronauts stay in this personalized fitness program for a month or so, but some keep at it for 90 days, according to NASA officials. It all depends on how they feel when they land, and what a team of doctors and exercise physiologists thinks is best.
A welcome ceremony
Soon after their landing-site medical exam, the astronauts and cosmonauts board a helicopter. They fly to a larger city, where authorities hold a brief, traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony, Navias said.
Caldwell Dyson and her two Russian colleagues on the flight home, Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko, flew to the city of Karaganda on Sept. 25. There at the airport the three received gifts, including Kazakh garb and nesting dolls with the space flyers' faces on them.
Each also got a bouquet of flowers, as well as a small plaque bearing Karaganda's coat of arms. The astronauts participated in a brief news conference before going their separate ways, the Russians to Star City outside Moscow, and Caldwell Dyson back to Johnson Space Center.
During the news conference, Caldwell Dyson expressed gratitude for the warm welcome.
"I thank you, my family thanks you and our crew thanks you," she said.
- Video: Astronaut Describes Riding Home on a Soyuz, Soyuz Landing Photos
- Graphic: Inside and Out: The International Space Station
- Astronaut's View of Earth Eclipsed All Else
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