Japanese space tourists return to Earth – Spaceflight Now

Russian Commander Alexander Misurkin smiles after exiting the Soyuz MS-20 landing capsule, visible below. Credit: Roscosmos

Two Japanese space tourists and a veteran Russian cosmonaut left the International Space Station and landed on Earth on Sunday, ending a 12-day mission with a parachute-assisted landing in freezing Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz MS-20 space capsule landed in Kazakhstan at 10:13 p.m. EST Sunday (03:13 GMT Monday), about three and a half hours after undocking from the space station.

Live views of the ship’s final descent and landing were not shown live on NASA TV or a mission webcast provided by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. Officials said bad weather prevented helicopters from quickly reaching the landing craft after landing.

Video from the landing site later showed two all-terrain vehicles stopped next to the Soyuz landing craft. Salvage crews assisted Russian Commander Alexander Misurkin, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant producer Yozo Hirano from the capsule.

All three looked healthy and in good spirits, and stood on top of one of the all-terrain vehicles in their Sokol launch and entry spacesuits. They then entered one of the trucks for medical checks and to remove their spacesuits.

Soyuz landings typically bring home crew members who have been in space six months or more. These cosmonauts and astronauts take longer to re-acclimate to Earth’s gravity, and Russian ground crews transport crew members on sofas set up at the landing site.

But after a 12-day stay in orbit, Misurkin, Maezawa, and Hirono appeared to have no mobility issues after landing.

Yusaku Maezawa aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Yusaku Maezawa

The three-man crew launched on December 8 on top of a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft docked with the space station’s Poisk module about six hours later, temporarily increasing the station’s crew size to 10.

Hirano filmed Maezawa floating inside the space station and documented life aboard the complex during the 12-day stay. Misurkin, a 44-year-old veteran of two previous semester stays on the station, will accompany Maezawa, 46, and Hirano, 36, to and from the space station on the Soyuz spacecraft.

Maezawa paid for the mission through Space Adventures, a US-based company that acts as a broker for space tourist flights. Space Adventures did not disclose how much the flight cost Maezawa, but Russia charged NASA up to $ 90 million for a seat on a Soyuz flight to the space station.

The commercial price for a space tourist, who requires less training and flies for a shorter time, is probably just under $ 90 million.

Maezawa and Hirano, who trained for three months for space flight, continued the trend of privately funded crews heading to space this year.

SpaceX launched an all-civilian low-earth orbit mission in September funded by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who selected three private citizens to join him on a three-day space flight designed as a fundraising initiative for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

A Russian actress and director spent nearly 12 days on the space station in October shooting scenes from a Russian movie.

And private space planes have launched into suborbital space on three commercial flights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the space companies founded by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. Branson and Bezos each flew to the edge of space in July on their own company’s rockets.

Maezawa, founder of Zozotown, Japan’s largest online fashion retailer, announced plans in 2018 to travel around the moon on a private mission aboard SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket. But he got his first glimpse of space flight aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

In addition to his high-flying film production with Maezawa, Hirano participated in a health experiment with Baylor College of Medicine to study the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The aim of the research is to examine how people with a range of physiological conditions and origins respond to space travel.

The researchers planned to collect biomedical data on Hirano before launch and after landing, including EKG activity, movements, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, and blood oxygen saturation. The research also collects cognitive and visual data, as well as tests of balance and perfection.

“I am delighted to participate in this research because it will help scientists reduce the health risks to future space explorers,” Hirano said in a statement released by Space Adventures.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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