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Here’s What It’s Like To Return To Earth After A Year In Space

The hours and days after Scott Kelly detaches from the International Space Station will be super busy.

Posted on March 1, 2016, at 12:16 p.m. ET

On Tuesday, astronaut Scott Kelly will leave the International Space Station after spending a full year in orbit.

NASA / Via

BuzzFeed Science spoke with NASA spokesperson Dan Huot at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to get a play-by-play of what Kelly and his crew-mates will be going through to get home:

1. First, Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov will strap themselves in to a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station.


A Soyuz is a capsule that the Russian space agency uses to ferry people to and from the station. Things get pretty tight inside.

2. At 4:40 p.m. ET, the hatch to the Soyuz will be closed and the crew will perform a series of leak checks to make sure everything is ready to go.


3. At 8:05 p.m. ET, the Soyuz will detach from the Space Station and slowly back away with some thrusters.


The Soyuz is aiming to hit a specific coordinate in Kazakhstan, so the thrusters will drive the craft to the exact position it needs to be in to hit that target.

4. The Soyuz will then perform a "de-orbit burn", using thrusters to slow it down until it enters Earth's atmosphere.

CSA / Via

The capsule will also separate into three parts, two of which will burn up before reaching the ground. Only the middle part, which contains the astronauts, has a heat shield.

5. After the burn, the capsule will fall for 53 minutes. During that descent the Soyuz will become a fireball and the crew will experience up to 5 Gs of force.

ESA / Via

6. Parachutes will deploy before the Soyuz touches down in a remote part of Kazakhstan at around 11:25 pm ET.


Search-and-recovery helicopters will already be in the area.

7. After that, the crew will just kinda chill in the capsule as the search-and-recovery forces locate and land right next to them.

Sergey Vigovskiy / NASA

Gotta be careful of that burned hunk of metal right there.

8. The search-and-recovery team will land, make sure everything looks good, and orient the capsule before pulling the astronauts out.

Ivan Sekretarev / AFP / Getty Images

9. The ground team will set up an inflatable tent for medical checks and place the astronauts into some comfy chairs as they do some preliminary exams.

Ivan Sekretarev / AFP / Getty Images

The doctors move in once the astronauts are seated, Huot said. The medical team will do basic stuff like heart readings and general wellness exams before bringing the astronauts to the tent for blood drawings and other more detailed tests.

10. This downtime will be the first chance the astronauts have to use a satellite phone to call friends and family.

Sergei Ilnitsky / AFP / Getty Images

11. In the tent, the astronauts will perform some basic tests to see what people who haven't experienced gravity in a year are capable of.


This will help NASA plan future missions to Mars. The tasks are very basic — things like standing up on your own, lying down and getting back up, recovering from a fall, and moving around basic obstacles. "When you send people to Mars, there's no search-and-recover force," said Huot.

12. Then, each astronaut will be loaded into their own helicopter and flown to an airport in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Dmitry Kostyukov / AFP / Getty Images

13. At the airport there will be a brief ceremony before the Russian and American astronauts go their separate ways.

Sergei Ilnitsky / AFP / Getty Images

14. Kelly will then be loaded onto a NASA aircraft and flown right to Houston. They want to rush him to the lab before he fully adjusts to life back on Earth.

Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images

"Your body starts to adapt really quickly, so the closer we get to taking samples and things like that from him to when he was in space the better," Huot said. He will be back in Houston about 24 hours after his touchdown in Kazakhstan.

15. When Kelly gets off the plane, he will be greeted by his family, NASA officials, and Dr. Jill Biden before being swept away to the lab.


He will be subject to extensive testing for the next two weeks, and will continue with further tests throughout the year and beyond!

16. Kelly will have to stay in "crew quarters" for the first night back, but will be able to spend time with family after that first night.

NASAwatch / Via

Safe travels, Commander Kelly!


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.