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ISS Expedition 63 crew returns home safely

Soyuz MS-06 descends with Expedition 54 crew members Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei of NASA. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

File photo of Soyuz MS-06 descending with Expedition 54 crew members Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, February 27, 2018. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

On October 21, 2020, the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft carrying the Expedition 63 crew members departed the International Space Station, successfully returning NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Russian Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner back to planet Earth at a landing site in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz MS-16 lifts off from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 9, 2020 sending Expedition 63 crewmembers Chris Cassidy of NASA and Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos into orbit. Photo: NASA/GCTC, Andrey Shelepin

The 187 day mission began on April 17, 2020, following an April 9 launch, and bore witness to the addition of eight different crew members throughout the duration of MS-16’s stay on station. The mission started with American commander Chris Cassidy at the helm, joined by Russian counterparts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. On May 31, 2020, the three member expedition gained two more crew members when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launched to the station onboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon, marking the first time a commercial vehicle transported crew to the station. 

During the mission, the combined crew also participated in several Extravehicular Activities. Commander Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken completed the first spacewalk on June 26, lasting a total of six hours and seven minutes. The astronauts accomplished the primary goal of replacing batteries for the station’s solar arrays, as well as double-dipping into tasks originally assigned for the second spacewalk of the Expedition 65 mission. The effort to replace the original aging batteries will help to prolong the life of the orbiting laboratory for at least four more years. The crew of Expedition 63 completed three more spacewalks during the mission, culminating in nearly an entire day’s worth of EVAs.

In addition to crucial spacewalks completed during Expedition 63’s time on orbit, the science completed by the crew proved to be paramount in improving life on Earth. Hypotheses studied during the mission included an effort to gain a better understanding of artificially created human organs using regenerative medicine technology. On Earth, the recreation of human organ cells are only capable of replicating in a two-dimensional image. However, in the microgravity environment experienced on station, these cells have the ability to grow from human stem cells into a three-dimensional culture, representing an incredible scientific breakthrough likely to improve and prolong several lives on Earth.

Change of Command occurs on board the ISS, as NASA Astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy transfers command to Expedition 64 Commander Roscosmos cosmomaut Sergey Ryzhikov on October 20. Image: NASA TV

The set of onboard experiments also included new studies regarding the human waste management system. This technique allows scientists to gain a more accurate understanding of how human waste can be recycled for long duration space flights, such as traveling to the Moon or Mars. Along with studying human waste, Expedition 63 also took part in an experiment known as Spaceflight Standard measures. These “measurements” collected different samples of blood, saliva, and as well as cognitive mood questionnaires to help understand the affect an extended stay in space has on the human body.

Their departure comes following the arrival of the Expedition 64 crew, made up of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who launched on October 14, 2020. The  Expedition 64 mission officially began on October 21, when the crew of Expedition 63 departed Station. Expedition 64 is expected to soon gain four additional crew members with the launch of Crew-1, the first operational flight for Crew Dragon. It is currently scheduled for liftoff in mid November.


Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.

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