ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Soyuz spacecraft commander Gennady Padalka and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov landed this morning at 00:51 GMT (02:51 CEST 12 September) in the steppe of Kazakhstan, marking the end of their missions to the International Space Station.
Andreas became Denmark’s first astronaut when he left our planet on 2 September on his 10-day iriss mission. The trio undocked from the orbiting complex on 11 September at 21:29 GMT (23:29 CEST) in an older Soyuz spacecraft, leaving the new vessel they arrived in for the Station crew.
ESA used the mission to test new technologies and conduct a series of scientific experiments.
In his first experiment, Andreas filtered Station waste water through a ‘biomimetic’ membrane from Denmark. The membrane mimics nature to create clean drinking water using a nano-technology that requires no energy. The output will now be analysed to see if it can be used in space in the future.
Andreas operated two rovers from his temporary home in orbit. His most intricate task involved inserting a peg in a hole with a clearance of less than a millimetre. Such precision required tactile feedback that ESA has developed to allow fine control over large distances.
Andreas ‘felt’ objects he instructed the robot to touch at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands while circling Earth 400 km high, thousands of kilometres from the rover.
The system will work with slow and unreliable networks and so is well suited for controlling robots on Earth with limited infrastructure, perhaps after earthquakes.
Andreas wore the tight SkinSuit for two days to test its effectiveness for preventing astronauts’ spines stretching in weightlessness. He also took microbiological samples to discover if it stays clean enough to wear for long periods.
Andreas and Aidyn arrived at the Station aboard Soyuz TMA-18M under commander Sergei Volkov but returned in Soyuz TMA-16M with commander Gennady Padalka. Gennady has finished a six-month mission and the trio left the fresh craft for NASA’s Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko,who are spending almost year in space to examine how humans adapt to longer flights.
Back on Earth
The iriss mission is not over for Andreas: he will fly via Moscow to ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany for debriefing and researchers will monitor him to complete their experiments.
The ground teams that work round the clock at the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and the User Support and Operations Centre around Europe will continue to operate ESA’s Columbus space laboratory as well as assist the crew of six international astronauts aboard the Station.
In less than three months, ESA’s next astronaut to go to space, Timothy Peake, will depart on his five-month Principia mission – launch is set for 15 December.