When astronauts return home from space on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, you can be sure NASA will be there with live video of the landing. But what's it really like to be there when a spaceship touches down?
Wonder no more. NASA's got you covered with a new 360-degree video suitable for any virtual-reality device. The video is a great primer ahead of the next Soyuz landing, on Sunday (June 3), which will return NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai home from the International Space Station.
"How'd you like to stand on the snowy ground of Kazakhstan to retrieve a crew from the International Space Station?" the video description reads. "If you'd like to do it without having to wear a parka, check out this 360 VR video captured in February 2018 and join NASA personnel on the last leg of the trip to pick up astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin at the end of Expedition 54 after five and a half months in space." [See Awesome Photos of Their Soyuz Landing!]
The 4-minute video chronicles the last leg of NASA's trip to pick up Acaba, Vande Hei and Misurkin when their Soyuz landed on the chilly steppes of Kazakhstan on Feb. 27. At the beginning of the video, recovery crews wait at an airfield to board Russian Mi-8 helicopters or all-terrain vehicles to make the trek out to the Soyuz's drop zone. Another scene shows what it's like inside one of the Mi-8 helicopters.
The scene then jumps to the Soyuz just after it's landed. Just after touchdown, recovery teams swarm to the landing site to extract the space crew. Sometimes, a Soyuz capsule rolls on its side after landing and has to be moved upright for extraction.
In the NASA video, the capsule is upright, and the recovery team has already set up a three-legged access ladder to reach the crew from the Soyuz's top hatch. You can watch as the astronauts ride a little slide off the Soyuz. (That's right, after their fiery plunge through the atmosphere, parachute descent and bumpy landing with retrorockets, space crews finally reach Earth on a little slide!)
Once the space travelers are pulled from the Soyuz, they take a break in special couches set up outside. If you explore the 360-degree view in the NASA video, you can see the crew mobbed by photographers and videographers as they sip water or make calls to family. This is the last photo op before the astronauts are moved to nearby tents for health checks to make sure they're OK after months in space.
After the medical checks, the station crewmembers begin the trip home. This means a helicopter ride back to the airfield in Kazakhstan, where the crewmembers are given a traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony and presented with gifts. This is where the Russian and U.S. crewmembers typically say farewell.
For Expedition 54, that means Acaba and Vande Hei returned home to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, while Misurkin headed back to Star City in Russia, home of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
You can watch the next Soyuz landing live on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, this weekend. The webcast coverage begins Saturday (June 2) with a change-of-command ceremony in which NASA astronaut Drew Feustel will take charge of the orbiting laboratory as Expedition 56 commander.
Tingle, Shkaplerov and Kanai are ending their Expedition 55 mission to the space station. NASA will webcast their return to Earth Sunday starting at 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT), when they bid farewell to Feustel, NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, who will remain behind as the Expedition 56 crew.
The Soyuz returning the Expedition 55 crew to Earth is scheduled to land at 8:40 a.m. EDT (1240 GMT) on Sunday. Three new space station crewmembers are scheduled to launch June 6 to restore the Expedition 56 team to full size.
Visit Space.com Sunday for complete coverage of the Expedition 55 crew's landing.