The record-breaking six-month EUROMIR 95 mission of ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter came to an end today with the successful landing of the Soyuz TM-22 spacecraft. Thomas Reiter and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Avdeev have been aboard the Mir space station since September 1995. The highlights of the mission included the first spacewalks by an ESA astronaut, a docking by the space shuttle Atlantis and extensive scientific research. The EUROMIR missions are an important step for international cooperation in view of ESA's participation in the International Space Station programme.
Reiter and his Russian crewmates landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 11h42 CET (13h42 Moscow time). Their capsule touched down about 107 kilometres northeast of Arkalyk. Recovery teams were quickly at the scene and the three men are reported to be in good health. Reiter was greeted at the landing site by ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, his backup and point of contact at mission control, Kaliningrad. ESA Director General Jean-Marie Luton and Director of ESA's Manned Space Flight and Microgravity Programme Jorg Feustel Büechl will welcome the crew on their arrival at Star City this evening.
The Soyuz TM-22 crew bid farewell to their two-man relief crew, Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev, and undocked from Mir at 08h20 CET (10h20 Moscow time) . The craft's engines were fired at 10h47 CET (12h47 Moscow time) to begin the descent. After jettisoning the spacecraft's orbital and service modules, the Soyuz descent capsule reentered the atmosphere. The fall to earth was slowed by parachutes and a last-minute burst from the capsule's retro-rockets.
Reiter, a 37 year-old German, has entered the record books as the first ESA astronaut to perform a spacewalk and the first European to make a second walk in space. At 180 days, his mission is the longest by a non-Russian.
Reiter made his spacewalks on 20th September, 1995, and 8th February 1996. During the first walk, he mounted a European experiment, called European Science Exposure Facility (ESEF), to the exterior of the Spektr module. ESEF was designed to expose materials to space and capture man-made space debris and naturally occurring cosmic dust. On his second excursion into space, Reiter retrieved two of the experiment's cassettes.
The Mir crew welcomed visitors to their orbital home when the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-74) came calling. The shuttle arrived at Mir on 15th November 1995 and spent three days docked with the station.
Most of Reiter's time aboard the station was spent on an extensive programme of research devised by European scientists. The experiments spanned the fields of live sciences, astrophysics, material sciences and technology.
Following Reiter's homecoming, ESA maintains a manned presence in space with two astronauts, Claude Nicollier and Maurizo Cheli, aboard US space shuttle Columbia (STS-75). They are due to return to Earth on 7th March after nearly two weeks in space.
Reiter and his Russian crewmates are expected to hold their first press conference since their return at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Star City, on 2nd March 1996 at 12h00 Moscow time (for more information contact the ESA Moscow office on Tel: +7.095.928.7529 or Fax: +7.095.928.5352). Reiter is expected to return to Western Europe in early April after debriefings and the completion of postflight experiments in Russia.