ESA astronaut returns to Earth after six months in orbit

After six months working on the International Space Station mission, Alpha, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet has returned to Earth with NASA astronauts.

The ESA astronaut is the first European to fly to the International Space Station and come back on a commercial spacecraft. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour transporting Crew-2, autonomously undocked from the International Space Station, entered Earth’s atmosphere, and deployed parachutes for a soft water-landing.

The crew landed off the coast of Florida in the US on November 9, 2021, at 03:33 GMT.

Pesquet is due to fly to Cologne, Germany, so he can be checked over by ESA’s space medicine team as he readjusts to Earth’s gravity at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) and German Aerospace Centre (DLR) ‘Envihab’ facility.

Novel space investigations

During his time on the Alpha mission, the ESA astronaut completed four spacewalks to establish novel solar array equipment and upgrade the International Space Station’s power system. He can now claim the European record for most accumulative hours spent spacewalking, at a staggering 39 hours and 54 minutes.

On top of helping to facilitate an incredible 200 investigations in space, comprising 40 European investigations and 12 new experiments led by the French space agency CNES, Thomas witnessed seven spacecraft come and go, including the 20-year old Pirs module’s permanent departure and the entrance of the Russian Nauka laboratory module with a very special passenger, the European Robotic Arm.

Capturing life in space

When Pesquet was not preoccupied with supporting countless investigations, he took thousands of photos and time-lapses from space and recorded tours of the Space Station, utilising a 360 camera, enabling global audiences to see an exceptional fly through humankind’s orbital outpost.

Just before his time on this novel space mission came to its conclusion, on October 4, the ESA astronaut became the fourth European and first French in command of the International Space Station.

Continuing experiments on Earth

Now he is back on Earth, Pesquet will continue working alongside European researchers on exciting experiments such as Acoustic Diagnostics that aims to study the impact of the Space Station environment on astronaut hearing, the TIME experiment that is analysing whether astronauts have a different experience and perspective of time whilst in space, as well as two experiments called Grip and Grasp that look into the physiology behind eye-hand coordination and the role of gravity in regulating grip force, among others.

With his work on the Alpha mission, Pesquet has helped facilitate the continuation of solid European research in space, whose results will play a significant role in shaping the future of human and robotic exploration whilst enriching technological developments on Earth.

Video content from his time in space is also available on YouTube and regular mission updates can be found on the Alpha blog.

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