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International Space Station Crew Return to Earth: How will gravity effect them?

Updated on September 16, 2011
The Soyuz crew, Borisenko, Samokutyaev and Caran
The Soyuz crew, Borisenko, Samokutyaev and Caran

Changing of Hands

Yesterday, the undocking of the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft from the International Space Station marked the end of Expedition 28 and the beginning Expedition 29. The previous day, Flight Commander Andrey Borisenko officially handed over command to Mike Fossum, who now has become the 29th Commander of the International Space Station.

Borisenko, along with Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan, then climbed back into their Soyuz TMA-21 and started their return flight to Earth after spending 162 days in the ISS.

A Traditional Ceremony

In this video, Expedition 28 Commander Borisenko officially hands over command of the International Space Station to Mike Fossum, who then becomes Expedition 29 Commander.

How does mirogravity effect the body?

Space travels may look easy, but what you don't see when you watch the videos is the long and short term effects microgravity has on the bodies of the astronauts.

Our bodies function very well here on Earth, with our cardiovascular systems working against gravity to circulate bloods to our extremities, and muscles and bones relying on gravity to keep everything in its correct place. But microgravity gives astronauts' bodies a bit of a shock. The body continues to work in the same way that it did on Earth, causing everything from nausea to backache to puffy faces to muscle loss. Astronauts report constant stuffy noses, high blood pressure, increased heart rate and a loss orientation or balance.

A Farewell to Expedition 28

In this video, Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum bids farewell to the previous Commander Andrey Borisenko and Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan, followed by the hatch closure of the Soyuz.

How will the return to Earth effect them physically?

When the three-man crew of the Soyuz landed in Kazakhstan, a Russian recovery team was there to assist them in getting out of their spacecraft and to adjust to gravity after their extended stay in space.

This sudden reintroduction to gravity would likely cause low blood pressure because the blood in their bodies would rush down and away from the heart and brain. This would cause dizziness and even unconsciousness. The astronauts very likely needed a helping hand to stand and walk and some have even been carried away from their craft on a stretcher.

To help the astronauts adjust, they'll be given salt water to drink, to increase the fluid in their bodies or they may wear G-suits (rubberized full-body suits which can be inflated to squeeze their extremities).

The effects of weightlessness can take months to recover from. The longer the stay in space, the more the astronaut will be affected when he returns. But with missions to Mars in the future, lasting 6 months or more, the research that these brave men do on the ISS is invaluble in helping us understand how life adapts to conditions that are completely unnatural to us.

The Soyuz Undocks from the ISS

Looing from Soyuz at the ISS, we see the undocking. Heading home!

Safe Landing

The Soyuz landed safely in Kazakhstan at around 10am local time, leaving a crew of 3 still aboard the ISS. Three more will join them on November 16, 2011.


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