After six months in space Thomas Pesquet is back on Earth

After six months in space Thomas Pesquet is back on Earth

Thomas Pesquet has just ended a stay of more than six months in space. Today he is the French astronaut who has spent the most days in space.

After six months of work in the International Space Station (ISS), French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has just returned to Earth. The native of Rouen spent a large part of his year 2021 in space (199 days), living in micro-gravity and carrying out experiments of all kinds. But after becoming the Frenchman who stayed the longest in space, but also the first Franiças and the fourth European to command the ISS, Thomas Pesquet deserved to return to Earth and relive under the influence. of gravity.

His return, the French made it that night aboard the same capsule that had brought him into space six months ago. Privately manufactured, the Crew Dragon is a creation of SpaceX. Much more comfortable than the Soyuz capsule from Roscosmos which had brought it back to Earth at the end of its Proxima mission, the small racing car of the Texan firm pierced the air before finishing its race, at low speed, off the coast of Florida. .

At 4:33 am this night (French time) the astronaut touched down on the ground (or more exactly the Atlantic Ocean) after a day filled with events of all kinds. As weather conditions cast doubt on Thomas Pesquet’s return to Earth, the ESA astronaut finally joined his two NASA colleagues, Megan McArthur and Robert Shane Kimbrough, as well as his Japanese colleague Akihiko Hoshide at board of the SpaceX capsule in the early evening.

After following all the usual procedure for this kind of mission, the crew of the Crew Dragon said goodbye to their fellow missionaries, who remained aboard the ISS. The capsule then disarmed from the station, beginning a long fall towards Earth.

5 minutes of terror

During its descent, the capsule will circle the earth six times, falling 400 kilometers high in just a few hours. In order to reduce its speed before entering Earth’s atmosphere, the small capsule fired its thruster for 17 minutes to slow itself down. Following this maneuver, only the heat shield now came to protect the astronauts. Then comes the so-called “blackout” phase. This is the most complex part of the return mission.

The whole stake is then to know if the heat shield will succeed in protecting the astronauts during their terrible descent through the various layers of the atmosphere. The capsule then reaches very high speeds, and it becomes a real ball of fire. The matter around the astronauts is so hot (due to the friction of the air) that it turns into plasma (the fourth state of matter) and radio communications are interrupted. This phase lasts about five minutes.

The sequel does not promise to be calmer for Thomas Pesquet

Arrived at less than 6000 meters high, the four astronauts are slowed down by small parachutes which calm the descent of the device. Once at 2000 meters high, the large parachutes are deployed and the capsule is then very strongly slowed down. All that remains is to fall gently towards Earth. The capsule will slow down until it touches the ground at 20km / h, a usual speed for a parachutist. Note that in Thomas Pesquet’s return flight, one of the four parachutes did not open correctly, which did not pose any problem during the descent.

Once in contact with the water of the Atlantic Ocean, the capsule floats on the surface and the astronauts wait for the SpaceX ships present nearby to come and look for them. An operation which ended successfully this morning, Thomas Pesquet being, at the time of this writing, on his way to Houston. The French should quickly return to Europe at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, where he will meet his relatives before taking a little vacation.

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