How Astronauts Return to Earth

Posted on Tue, December 12, 2017
  • by: Beth Wilson, Educator and Host of STEM in 30
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If you were freefalling back to Earth from space, would you want to rely on a couple of parachutes and some rockets to protect you from crashing? As crazy as it sounds, that is what allows astronauts aboard the Russian Soyuz capsules to safely return to Earth.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik will be returning from the International Space Station and landing on Earth on December 14. His landing experience this time will be much different than the return from his first mission in 2009. On his first mission, Bresnik returned to Earth with a crew of six on a NASA Space Shuttle. Even though Bresnik will be returning with just two other crew members, the Soyuz will be a tight fit.

Size is just one of many differences between landing in a Space Shuttle and a Soyuz. One of the most notable differences, according to astronauts, happens during reentry. Reentry for a Space Shuttle is fairly smooth, and the wings allow for a landing similar to that of a glider. Reentry for a Soyuz capsule, on the other hand, is often described as a series of car crashes.

Watch as Bresnik discusses the differences between landing in a Space Shuttle versus a Soyuz capsule. Then, take your own turn at engineering a space capsule that keeps its “eggs-ellent” crew from cracking up during landing. 

Returning to Earth in a Soyuz capsule is a rough ride. In this episode of ISS Science Astronaut Randy Bresnik talks about the landing. Also see how the energy from a landing is dissipated in a hands-on classroom activity. 

Subject: Physical Science | Grade Level: 6-12 | Time: 90-120 Minutes

Lesson Plan: PDF iconAn Egg-cellent Return to Earth