A record-breaking crew is about to return from the space station. Their best photos show stunning landscapes, astronaut selfies, and SpaceX spaceships.
- Three crew members on current mission to the International Space Station, Expedition 61, are slated to return to Earth on Thursday.
- While living 250 miles above the Earth, they captured awe-inspiring images of ice-capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the nightscape in Iraq, and lagoons in Brazil. Here are their best photos.
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The 61st expedition to the International Space Station officially ends on Thursday, when three crew members are slated to return to Earth.
Since September, a group of four astronauts and two cosmonauts has been living on the space station, working together to conduct experiments and replace aging technology. They've grown cotton, repaired a cosmic-ray detector on the station's exterior, and tested remote robotics in space.
On the expedition were: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano; NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan, and Jessica Meir; and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka. Koch, Parmitano, and Skvortsov are the crew members scheduled to return to Earth, while the others will stay on the ISS for Expedition 62.
"When you think about your home, you usually think about your house, your neighborhood, and your family. And when you look at this fragile blue ball from outer space, that's home too. It's everybody's home," Meir told a recent graduating class from her hometown of Caribou, Maine, according to Bangor Daily News.
Here are the most stunning photos from the crew's four months orbiting Earth.
The six-person crew of Expedition 61 didn't all arrive on the ISS at the same time. Koch, Morgan, and Parmitano were also part of Expedition 60, so they'd been orbiting Earth for months already.
Then NASA astronaut Nick Hague, cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, and Almansoori landed back on Earth on October 3.
For the nine days between the new crew members' arrival and the Expedition 60 departure, the ISS was a bit crowded.
Expedition 61 officially started after they departed, on October 3.
Since then, the astronauts have been capturing remarkable snapshots of life on Earth from 250 miles above the planet's surface.
"Our planet Earth, with its vast and varied terrain, is a constant source of wonder to astronauts on the International Space Station," Parmitano, the mission commander, said in an ESA video.
Koch, Parmitano, and Skvortsov are now making preparations to return to Earth.
They'll leave Skripochka, Meir, and Morgan to begin Expedition 62 later this month.
Koch has already logged more time in space than any other woman. She beat the past record of 289 days, set by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2017.
Koch will be just 12 days shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut — Scott Kelly set that record when he spent 340 days in space from 2015 to 2016.
Koch conducted the first all-female spacewalk with Meir in October 2019.
Some of the repair work focused on the space station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a cosmic-ray detector.
"The actual experience of going out the door is almost indescribable," Koch told the Raleigh News & Observer — the newspaper in her college town.
"The perspective that you gain on a spacewalk is a little bit different than what we see just looking out the window from here on station," she added. "You're actually immersed in the environment around you."
In total, the crew conducted nine spacewalks during the four-month expedition — more than any other mission in the same period of time in the history of the ISS.
The expedition's spacewalks lasted a total of 61 hours.
Expedition 61's primary research goals involved studying ultra-cold matter, growing plants aboard the space station, and testing new robots in space.
ISS crew members have grown lettuce, radishes, peas, zinnias, and sunflowers in the past. Some of the crops provide fresh food to the astronauts, while the rest is analyzed.
Parmitano has been the mission's commander — the third European and first Italian to hold the position.
"From up here, the answer is clearer than ever," Parmitano said to leaders at the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23, 2019. "There is absolutely no place like home."
This year brings a major milestone for the ISS: November 2020 will mark 20 years of crewed operation of the orbiting laboratory.
In total, 239 people have visited the ISS.
Those astronauts, cosmonauts, and other visitors came from 19 different countries.
More spaceflight history is also likely to be made in 2020, since the first astronauts to fly commercial spaceships are expected to launch in the coming months.
Koch, Skvortsov, and Parmitano will board the spaceship that will take them back to Earth at 9:30 p.m. ET, according to NASA. They're scheduled to land in Kazakhstan on Thursday afternoon local time.
"I don't really remember a time when I didn't want to be an astronaut," Koch said. "Most kids probably dream of becoming an astronaut. I was just the one that never grew out of it."
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