Two astronauts and a cosmonaut are scheduled to return home days before Christmas, and one crewmember comes bearing a special gift: breathtaking video footage from space.
Tonight (Dec. 19), German astronaut Alexander Gerst bids farewell to the space laboratory he's been calling home since June of this year. You can watch that descent live on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of NASA TV.
Gerst and his departing crewmates make their final farewells tonight at 4:45 p.m. EST (21:45 GMT) and the hatch on the returning Soyuz MS-09 capsule will close less than an hour after that, according to an ESA timetable. Landing is scheduled for Dec. 20 at 12:06 a.m. EST (05:06 GMT). [Expedition 57: The Space Station Mission in Photos]
Gerst is a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, and to commemorate the end of his Horizons mission, ESA published a mission highlights video that will take any viewer's breath away.
"Combining thousands of images taken by Alexander over more than six months, this Ultra High Definition video provides a glimpse into spacecraft operations and the beauty of Earth as seen from the International Space Station," ESA officials said in the Dec. 17 video's description. Additional photography by Gerst is available here.
The reel opens on Gerst peering out from the station's Cupola, a dome-shaped, windowed module provided by ESA. The space shuttle Endeavor brought it into space in February 2010, on one of the final shuttle missions.
Flashing thunderstorms, meandering auroras and an orange airglow feature brilliantly in the video. Spacecrafts like the SpaceX Dragon CRS-15 and Japan's Kounotori-7cargo ships also make an appearance. The Soyuz MS-11 that launched Dec. 3 is also visible ascending in the video, liftoff trail and all.
Gerst will return to Earth with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergei Prokopyev.