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International Space Station astronauts land in Kazakhstan

Three astronauts from the International Space Station, including the singing Canadian Chris Hadfield, landed in Kazakhstan…

Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), left, Russian Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn sit in chairs outside the Soyuz Capsule just minutes after they landed in a remote area outside the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Hadfield, Romanenko and Marshburn are returning from five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 34 and 35 crews. NASA/Carla Cioffi

Three astronauts from the International Space Station, including the singing Canadian Chris Hadfield, landed in Kazakhstan today after a journey of nearly 100 million kilometres.

Commander Hadfield, an avid Twitter-user who recently released a video of himself singing the David Bowie classic Space Oddity, joined Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos) and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn on the long trip home from the station.

The astronauts prepare for their trip home.

“Russian recovery teams were on hand to help the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after 146 days in space,” NASA said in a statement on its website.

“The undocking marked the end of Expedition 35 and the start of Expedition 36 under the command of Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, who is scheduled to remain on the station with Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Alexander Misurkin until September.”

NASA said Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko spent their last morning on the station packing, including hardware from an experiment examining how gases and liquids come together and separate in space.

“Results from this experiment may lead to improvements in the shelf-life of household products, food and medicine,” NASA said.

Making space a human place

Kevin Orrman-Rossiter, Senior Research Services Officer at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Science, said the International Space Station provides humans with a place to live in space.

“Until we get past a certain point that commercial interests take over and it becomes the ‘next’ exotic holiday, space exploration still requires substantial effort. In this case a multinational effort, demonstrating that people can work across political and national boundaries,” he said.

“For me, an interesting outcome from this last expedition was the difference one person made. Commander Chris Hadfield connected widely with people across the world using Twitter and fantastic pictures of our world from a view we can not normally see.”

Alice Gorman, Lecturer in Archaeology at Flinders University and an expert on space junk said the the International Space Station has many critics who see it as a white elephant.

“But I think it’s quite important for a couple of reasons - firstly because it’s an international cooperative venture, and this is an important antidote to the strong current of national security and military interests in space,” she said.

“As for the other reason, think about what it would be like if there were no humans in space at all. I think we’d feel a little closed in, like we had poked our head out of the atmosphere for a look and then scurried back in before anything scary happened.”

While robotic missions are far more efficient than crewed missions, the space station was about more than scientific efficiency, she said.

“It’s about making space a human place, and I think that’s important.”

Getting off Earth

Jonti Horner, Post Doctoral Research Fellow at University of New South Wales and an expert on exoplanets, said that the most important thing about the International Space Station is simply that it’s there.

“When we went to the Moon, in the late 60s and early 70s, it was viewed as being the first step towards a future where humanity was spreading out to the stars (manned bases on the moon, and Mars).

Since the last man walked on the moon, though, 40 years have passed - and since then, men and women have never left relatively low Earth orbit,“ he said, adding that many important experiments had been done on the station, taking advantage of its microgravity conditions.

“It’s kind of important to have some manned presence up there, I feel - if nothing else, just to show we haven’t totally abandoned the idea of getting off our planet.”

Dr Danail Obreschkow, Research Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Western Australia, said the return of the three astronauts marked a milestone in space exploration.

“The expedition pursued a high-level research program in microgravity, intercepted by adventurous space walks outside the station to repair broken parts. An orbiting island in space, the International Space Station is a true masterpiece of human invention, making scientists and engineers hold their breath,” he said.

“But the real power of the International Space Station lies in its astonishing message to everyone. A symbol for peaceful collaboration between world powers once at war, it reminds us of how much we can achieve together. Its pictures inspire the dreams of millions of children, uncover their passion for science and convey that big visions can come true. This investment in the motivation of future generations will pay back a thousand times and make the giant costs of the International Space Station look small in comparison.”

Dr Obreschkow said it was possible to see the space station travelling across the night sky.

“It looks a bit like a star, but in motion, a bit like a plane, but not blinking. Look up your local transit times here.”

Join the conversation

7 Comments sorted by

  1. Liam J

    logged in via email

    "“It’s kind of important to have some manned presence up there, I feel – if nothing else, just to show we haven’t totally abandoned the idea of getting off our planet.”

    Why not abandon the idea - its obviously not happening. Putting aside hollywood CGI and NASAs 'lets pretend' marketing, we haven't actually gone anywhere at all in decades. We've managed to sling a few satellites around our solar system, but thats it and its not much. Why is it so hard to accept this? because space-nerds are like xtians, they overlook trashing Earth in hope of 'the next world'. No wonder the aliens aren't interested.

    1. Sam Han

      Lawyer; LLM student

      In reply to Liam J

      Just because it hasn't happened now, doesn't mean it will never happen. When Pascal invented the mechanical calculator in 1642, he would have hardly believed it possible that in less than 400 years time, humanity would invent machines that can make billions of calculations per second. But we can only make that sort of progress by gradually chipping away at technical hurdles, and even researching things that appear to be completely irrelevant.

      By having at least a token human presence in space…

      Read more
    2. Liam J

      logged in via email

      In reply to Sam Han

      The argument that we should maintain ISS in case we ever find a use for it is weak. Telecoms & earth observing sat's like the (failing) Landsats are very useful, but its the interplanetary pipedream dream we're talking about, yes?

      You are entitled to ypur opinion re symbolic hope value, but i do not share it. Nothing would give me more hope than widespread realisation that we are going to bear the consequences of our mistakes here pn earth, rather then "beam up" out of them. Its time to grow up.

    3. Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

      Research Partnerships Officer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Liam J

      For me you appear to be conflating two separate ideas: (1) our responsibility to not 'trash' the Earth, and (2) exploration and travel off Earth.

      While some who wish to explore space or as you suggest leave the Earth May, see this as a quick lets get-off Earth because me made this place uninhabitable - and will go on and repeat this elsewhere given half a chance. This does not mean that all or even a majority of those interested in space exploration feel this way. I know that the 3 interviewees of this article feel quite strongly that we are have a responsibility towards our earth, irrespective of the feasibility or not of space travel. At the same time all 3 of us, from different private and professional perspectives see space exploration, in all its guises (manned, robotic and remote) as a worthwhile and human enterprise.

    4. Liam J

      logged in via email

      In reply to Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

      I could agree it was a worthwhile enterprise -if- there was no opportunity cost for the enormous material resource investment required. But there is, and we have real and pressing problems that should call ouir attention away from daydreams about our offplanet destiny. Reminds me of the joke about satellite remote sensing - 'getting as far away from the problem as possible'.

  2. Don Williams

    Water Policy Analyst

    The International Space Station is an antidote to prevent space becoming an overwhelmingly military domain, where the generals and Air Marshals compete.

    We have the welcome sight of major powers cooperating, putting people on the ISS to collaborate. To me, this alone makes the ISS worthwhile.

    That's the pragmatic argument. As well as that, I believe that the astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS exemplify humanity's desire to push the limits - it simply is part of the human condition.