The Expedition 57 commander handed over control of the International Space Station today in a traditional ceremony. He and two of his crewmates will then head back to Earth Wednesday just in time for the holidays.
Commander Alexander Gerst ceremonially transferred command of the orbital lab today to cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko who officially begins his lead of the station when the homebound crew undocks tomorrow. Kononenko is staying behind with Expedition 58 Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques who will stay on the station until June.
Gerst and Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Sergey Prokopyev are winding down their 197-day mission in space. The trio will undock from the Rassvet module inside the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft Wednesday at 8:40 p.m. and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan about three-and-a-half hours later.
Prokopyev will command the Soyuz flight back to Earth tomorrow flanked by Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor. Today he is packing and readying the spacecraft for the departure. The undocking and landing activities will be broadcast live on NASA TV.
There was still time for science on the orbital lab today as Gerst explored how astronauts manipulate objects in space. Results could improve the design of space habitats and impact neurology patients on Earth. He also joined Auñón-Chancellor for ultrasound scans and blood sample collections as they wrap up their human research studies.