Three International Space Station fliers — NASA astronaut Nick Hague, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates — got done with packing Wednesday for a fiery overnight dive back to Earth and arriving on the steppe of Kazakhstan Thursday morning U.S. time.
Soyuz MS-12/58S leader Alexey Ovchinin, co-pilot Nick Hague and UAE “spaceflight participant” Hazzaa Ali Almansoori were planned to undock from the station’s Russian Rassvet module at 3:37 a.m. Thursday.
After moving a secure distance away, Ovchinin and Hague will fire the spacecraft’s braking rockets at 6:06 a.m., setting up an arrival close to the town of Dzhezkazgan around 7 a.m. (5 p.m. local time).
Abandoned on board the station will be the six-member Expedition 61 group made up of Italian commander Luca Parmitano, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronauts Jessica Meir, Christina Koch, and Drew Morgan.
For Ovchinin and Hague, touchdown will mark the finish of a year-long space odyssey that started with a launch endeavor in October 2018. Two minutes after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the normally dependable Soyuz sponsor endured a cataclysmic malfunction, triggering a crisis abort. Ovchinin and Hague landed securely a few hundred miles downrange after a 19-minute ride.
It was a devastating dissatisfaction for Ovchinin and Hague and a frightening experience for their families.
In any case, the Russians immediately found and fixed the issue and continued Soyuz flights two months after the fact. Hague and Ovchinin were reassigned to the Soyuz MS-12/58S spacecraft, alongside NASA astronaut Christina Koch, lastly made it into orbit on March 14.
“This year has definitely been a crazy year,” Hague told CBS News in a space-to-ground interview Wednesday. “Finally making it up here in March was just … a mix of emotions — the relief of finally accomplishing it, knowing the sacrifice that had been put in up to that point, not just by me, but my family.
“It’s something uncommon to ask a family to sit there and witness a rocket disintegrate with someone they love strapped to the top of it and then to turn around and ask them to do that again five months later. That’s quite something for them to go through. It’s really brought home just how important it is what we’re doing up here, and why it’s all worth it.”
During a brief ceremony Wednesday, Ovchinin, commander of Expedition 60, turned the space station over to Parmitano, the third European Space Agency astronaut to command the outpost.
“This has been a long and exciting flight,” Ovchinin said, speaking through a translator. “It’s been exciting, it’s been a thrill, it’s been a ride. We’ve done it together, we’ve done it well and to be honest with you, I want to stay, I don’t want to leave. I would like to stay back and continue working as part of this team. So thank you, everybody, for your support and your help.”
Skripochka, Meir, and Almansoori arrived at the space station on September 25. As a spaceflight participant, Almansoori was ready under a commercial contract between the Russian space office Roscosmos and the government of the United Arab Emirates. The Russians sold 10 past Soyuz seats to nine wealthy “space tourists” — one flew twice — under the SFP program.
In any case, Almansoori, a veteran jet fighter pilot, was the first since 2009. He completed a full slate of UAE research and public outreach during his stay onboard the station.
“Poor Hazzaa has only had eight days up here,” Meir said Wednesday. “He’s been getting all of his work done, really representing his country well.”
With an on-time landing Thursday, Ovchinin and Hague will have logged 202 days 15 hours and 45 minutes in space, covering 3,248 orbits and 86 million miles since launch. Including two past flights, Ovchinin’s total time in space will remain at 375 days.
During their stay aloft they helped welcome nine visiting rocket and dealt with the flight of seven. Ovchinin logged one spacewalk while Hague wandered outside three times. It was an encounter he’ll always remember.
During his last trip August 21, “there was a point where I was out on the front of the station and I was able to look up and really not see any station in front of me, just see the curve of the Earth, me and my own individual spacecraft, coasting through space over such a beautiful horizon,” he told CBS News. “The wave of emotions that comes over you is just overwhelming.”