French astronaut returns safely to Earth

AFP/The Local
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French astronaut returns safely to Earth
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet attends a conference in Tokyo on September 19, 2018. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

Having orbited the earth more than 3,000 times over the course of 119 days - and played a saxophone solo in space - Thomas Pesquet will now undergo medical tests to see how his body has coped.


Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, has made it back to Earth, landing in a SpaceX capsule with three other astronauts off the coast of Florida. They had been working on the International Space Station. 

A household name in France, Pesquet is perhaps best known for his saxophone rendition of the French national anthem, performed aboard the ISS, to mark the closing of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the handover to Paris. 

WATCH: Thomas Pesquet plays the final bars of La Marseillaise in space


It was Pesquet's second space mission - he now holds the European record for the most cumulative time spent spacewalking.

Along with two Americans and one Japanese astronaut, Pesquet landed in the Gulf of Mexico at at 22:33 US Eastern Time (0333 GMT Tuesday), marking the end of the "Crew-2" mission. Four huge parachutes and a heat shield enabled their survival. 

Their mission was to conduct hundreds of experiments and help upgrade the station's solar panels. Pesquet officially served at the ISS commander. 

He tweeted a message before beginning his journey back to Earth: "I am proud to have represented France once again in space! Next time, the moon?"



They boarded their Dragon, dubbed "Endeavour", and undocked from the ISS at 2:05 pm (1905 GMT), NASA announced.

Endeavour then looped around the ISS for around an hour-and-a-half to take photographs, the first such mission since a Russian Soyuz spaceship performed a similar manoeuvre in 2018.

The Dragon, which flew mostly autonomously, has a small circular window at the top of its forward hatch through which the astronauts can point their cameras.

Their activities have included documenting the planet's surface to record human-caused changes and natural events, growing Hatch chili peppers and studying worms to better understand human health changes in space.

Crew-2's departure was delayed a day by high winds. 

Bad weather and what NASA called a "minor medical issue" have also pushed back the launch of the next set of astronauts, on the Crew-3 mission, which is now set to launch Wednesday.

Until then, the ISS will be inhabited by only three astronauts -- two Russians and one American.

SpaceX began providing astronauts a taxi service to the ISS in 2020, ending nine years of US reliance on Russian rockets for the journey following the end of the Space Shuttle program.

Broken toilet

The crew also faced a final challenge on their journey home - they had to wear diapers after a problem was detected with the capsule's waste management system, forcing it to remain offline.

They had no access to a toilet from the time the hatch closed at 12:40 pm until after splashdown - around 10 hours.

"Of course that's sub-optimal, but we're prepared to manage," NASA astronaut Megan McArthur said at a press conference ahead of the departure.

"Space flight is full of lots of little challenges, this is just one more that we'll encounter and take care of in our mission."

A SpaceX all-tourist crew encountered a similar waste-related problem during a September flight, which triggered an alarm system. 

NASA later said a tube had come unglued, sending urine to the capsule's fan system instead of a storage tank.


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