Early Sunday morning, three astronauts will depart the International Space Station and make the 3.5-hour descent back to Earth. NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are headed home after spending five and a half months in orbit. The departing crew members are making way for a new trio of astronauts, who will be launching to the ISS on June 6th.
On Friday, Shkaplerov, the previous commander of the ISS, handed over control of the station to NASA astronaut Drew Feustel. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, he and his fellow crew will begin their journey to the surface. Starting at 1:30AM ET, the three astronauts will get inside the Russian Soyuz capsule. After they close the hatch, they’ll undock from the ISS at around 5:16AM ET.
That’s when the landing sequence begins. The Soyuz will move farther and farther away from the ISS for a couple of hours before igniting its engines at 7:57AM ET to take the capsule out of Earth’s orbit. At that point, the vehicle will start its plunge to the ground. It will shed pieces of hardware that are no longer necessary, and then make a fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere. Eventually, a series of parachutes will deploy to slow the Soyuz down for landing. The vehicle is slated to touch down in the grasslands of Kazakhstan at 8:40AM ET on Sunday.
Just three days after the landing, the next crew will launch in another Soyuz to the ISS. NASA astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, and German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency will be making their way to orbit for a nearly six-month stay. This flight was originally supposed to have NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps on board, who would have been the first African-American crew member of the ISS. But NASA pulled her from the mission in January, replacing her with Auñón-Chancellor. The space agency did not give a clear reason for the change.
NASA’s coverage of Sunday’s landing will begin at 1:30AM ET with the closing of the Soyuz hatch, followed by additional coverage of the undocking and landing throughout the morning. So if you want to start your Sunday extra early, check back then to watch three astronauts come home.