3 Russian cosmonauts land on Soyuz MS-21 capsule after 195 days on space station

Three cosmonauts returned safely from the International Space Station, landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan after six and a half months in orbit.

Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, all with the Russian federal space corporation Roscosmos, touched down aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 6:57 a.m. EDT (1057 GMT or 4:57 p.m. local time) on Thursday (Sept. 29). Their parachute-assisted landing southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan brought to an end the first flight of an all-Russian career-cosmonaut crew in more than two decades.

Russian recovery teams were on site soon after the Soyuz spacecraft landed to assist the crew as they exited the descent capsule and began readjusting to the normal pull of gravity. All three cosmonauts were in good spirits as they took their first breaths in of the crisp, fresh air that they had been missing during their 195 days on the International Space Station.
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Returning from the International Space Station, Russia's Soyuz MS-21 lands on the steppe of Kazakhstan with cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov of Roscosmos, Thursday, September 29, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV/TV Roscosmos)

"Excellent, we feel excellent," said Artemyev, describing his and his crewmates' condition. 

Artemyev, Matveev and Korsakov launched to the orbiting complex on March 18 to join the station's Expedition 66 crew. Their departure, at 3:34 a.m. EDT (0734 GMT) on Thursday, marked the formal beginning of Expedition 68. Artemyev, who led Expedition 67, handed over lead to European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti before leaving the station.

"I think I speak on behalf of all our crew in saying how much we appreciated your leadership in the last months," Cristoforetti told Artemyev during a brief change of command ceremony on Wednesday. "I think you have really helped us grow together, not only as crew members and crewmates, but also as one big space family."

Cristoforetti is the first European woman and first Italian to command the station.

"It's obviously an honor and a privilege to represent Europe in space on the space station. And of course, as an Italian astronaut, it's especially an honor to represent Italy," she said.

Russia's Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft undocks from the Earth-facing port of the Prichal node after 195 days at the International Space Station on Thursday, March 29, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Cristoforetti has been on the station since April, when she and NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins arrived aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Freedom." They are set to return to Earth five days after the arrival of the next Dragon crew — including Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina — currently targeted for no earlier than Wednesday (Oct. 5), pending Hurricane Ian's impact on NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Expedition 68 crew also includes Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who arrived at the station aboard Soyuz MS-22 on Sept. 21.

Soyuz MS-21 crewmates Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev rest in chairs after landing from the International Space Station on the steppe of Kazakhstan, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

Soyuz MS-21 crewmates Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev rest in chairs after landing from the International Space Station on the steppe of Kazakhstan, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (Image credit: TV Roscosmos)

Artemyev, Matveev and Korsakov's time in space was highlighted by a series of five spacewalks devoted to configuring and outfitting a new European robotic arm for use on the Russian segment of the station. Artemyev and Matveev logged 26 hours and 7 minutes on four of the outings. The fifth spacewalk took Artemyev and Cristoforetti 7 hours and 5 minutes to complete.

Korsakov supported the extravehicular activities of his crewmates by coordinating their tasks from inside.

Between the spacewalks and assisting with U.S.-launched science experiments, the cosmonauts installed and tested a new 3D printer built by the Energia Space Rocket Corporation. Artemyev also filed reports as a special correspondent for the TASS news agency.

The Soyuz MS-21 mission patch (at right) is based on the crest of Bauman Moscow State Technical University (left), all three crew members' alma mater. (Image credit: Roscosmos/Bauman Moscow State Technical University via collectSPACE.com)

This was Artemyev's third flight to the space station. The 51-year-old cosmonaut has now logged more than 561 days in low Earth orbit.

Matveev, 39, and Korsakov, 38, both completed their first spaceflights. All three Soyuz MS-21 crewmates were graduates of Bauman Moscow State Technical University. The design of their mission patch was modeled after the school's crest.

The Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft traveled a total of 77 million miles (124 million km) while completing 2,960 orbits of Earth.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.