After a month-long delay, three astronauts from the International Space Station landed safely in Kazakhstan Thursday.
The BBC reported the safe return of Expedition 43 astronauts Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti after almost 200 days in space. A NASA press release added that together, the group has logged almost a thousand days in space across multiple flights. Expedition 43 was Cristoforetti’s first flight and the record for the most days spent in space by a female astronaut on a single mission.
Upon landing in a Soyuz spacecraft, they underwent a battery of tests that NASA says will help advance a future journey to Mars. Measuring their physical balance and ability to navigate tasks like stepping over obstacles mimics the challenges astronauts traveling to Mars will have to deal with upon landing on the Red Planet.
While in space, the group performed over six months’ worth of scientific research and space station maintenance in space, such as the world’s first 3D tool printed in space, a fluid shifts experiment that mimics the effect of gravity through special pants that pull fluids from an individuals upper body to their legs and a Capillary Beverage study which yielded a space-ready espresso machine.
Cristoforetti and Virts gained a following on social media by updating their followers on the crew’s experiments, with Cristoforetti currently having over 550,000 followers. UK’s Mirror wrote of the crew’s web videos on the tools astronauts use to relieve themselves, how to cut hair in low-gravity settings and how to make a cheeseburger in space.
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) February 19, 2015
Their safe return follows difficult challenges, such as a forced evacuation from one part of the station in January following a possible gas leak and the major malfunction of resupply spacecraft Progress M-27M in April, which delayed the crew’s return.
In a change of command ceremony aboard the station, Commander Virts handed over the station to Expedition 44, composed of Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and crewmembers Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. Three more astronauts will join them in July.