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Science & Exploration

N° 26–2017: Paolo Nespoli returns to Earth

14 December 2017

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli landed back on Earth early this morning after 139 days in space. The ride home from the International Space Station required braking from 28 800 km/h to a standstill in barely three hours.

Paolo and crewmates Randy Bresnik of NASA and Sergei Ryazansky of Roscosmos touched down on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 08:37 GMT.

The Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft endured the stresses of descent and landing as planned: its heatshield reached 1600°C during reentry into the atmosphere as the astronauts experienced up to four times their own body weight.

At 10 km altitude parachutes deployed before retrorockets provided the final braking metres before touchdown.

“The so-called soft landing feels like a head-on collision between a truck and a small car – and you are in the small car,” recalls Paolo from his 2011 landing.

During his five-month mission, Paolo orbited Earth 2224 times, flew through 35 000 sunrises and sunsets, and travelled 94 million kilometres.

This was Paolo’s third mission and third visit to the Space Station, bringing his total time in space to 313 days, the second most for an ESA astronaut, after Thomas Reiter.  

Returning to earthly life

Paolo completed more than 60 experiments during his Vita mission, which stands for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability.

His body was itself an arena for research: his eyes, headaches, sleeping patterns and eating habits were monitored to learn more about how humans adapt to life in space.

Temperature recordings, muscle exercises and plenty of blood and saliva samples will add to the picture and prepare humans for missions further from Earth.

Some 400 km above the planet, he instructed a humanoid robot in Germany to repair three damaged solar panels across a simulated Mars terrain, showing how astronauts and robots will work together on future planetary missions. 

Life in space could get easier thanks to tablets and smartphones – Paolo tested a hands-free system that displays instructions during complex tasks.

There was a lot of traffic during Vita: Paolo welcomed four visiting vehicles and saw three leaving the Station. He took part in two dockings using the Station’s robotic arm and assisted in four spacewalks.

Paolo will now be busy with briefings and tests. Astronauts undergo a form of rapid ageing in space and need to readapt to living under gravity. Scientists will investigate how his body reacts as a case study.

The next ESA astronaut to travel to the Station will be Alexander Gerst, scheduled for launch next summer.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member.

ESA has established formal cooperation with six Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications.

Learn more about ESA at

For further information, please contact:
ESA Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 1 53 69 72 99