Technology & Science

'Gravity is not my friend,' Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques says as he and crewmates return

Canadian David Saint-Jacques, Russian Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain have landed in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule after the 6½-hour return trip to Earth from the International Space Station.

Saint-Jacques, Anne McClain and Oleg Kononenko were aboard International Space Station for 6 months

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques is helped out of the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft just minutes after he, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday Kazakh time. (Bill Ingals/NASA/Reuters)

Canadian David Saint-Jacques, Russian Oleg Kononenko and American Anne McClain have landed in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule after the 6½-hour return trip to Earth from the International Space Station.

The spacecraft undocked from the space station without incident from the orbiting laboratory at 7:25 p.m. ET Monday before landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 10:47 p.m.

The crew were in good health, NASA TV reported.

CBC's Chris Brown, reporting just metres from the landing site, said about 200 people were around the capsule, including health officials. The landing appeared to go off perfectly, with the capsule and its parachute appearing in the sky over central Kazakhstan exactly on time. The sound of the parachute deploying was heard a couple of seconds later.

A team works to move the Soyuz MS-11 capsule from the remote landing site, near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The capsule carried Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques and Oleg Kononenko back to Earth from the International Space Station. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Saint-Jacques appeared nauseous

The capsule landed upright, though it looked like it had been blowtorched from the heat generated by re-entry, Brown said.

The three crew members were pulled out of the capsule one by one before being offered fruit and fluids, as well as access to a satellite phone.  

Of the three crew members, Saint-Jacques appeared to be faring the worst. "David smiled but it was a forced one, because he was extremely nauseous," Brown said, adding that he seemed otherwise healthy. That was in contrast to McClain, who appeared exuberant and said she was ready to do it all again.

The astronauts were put on camping chairs in the sun just by the capsule for a respite and initial medical checks.

'Gravity is not my friend'

Just before his helicopter took off on its way to a local airport, Saint-Jacques told CBC News: "Gravity is not my friend," and "I need to learn to walk again." He said the first thing that struck him after more than 200 days in space was the smell of the grass.

Saint-Jacques spoke to CBC News after landing on Earth:

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and two of his crewmates landed in Kazakhstan after a 6½-hour return trip to Earth from the International Space Station. 0:21

The married father of three young children said he was looking forward to seeing his family again. Véronique Morin, Saint-Jacques's wife, told CBC News she "felt like his anchor on Earth" while he was aboard the ISS.

"It's a technical challenge to go to space, but it's also a challenge for families coping with the absence and the demands of the mission. But it's been a success, and on our side we can say mission accomplished."

Morin discusses the upcoming family reunion with Saint-Jacques:

Véronique Morin discusses the return of her husband David Saint-Jacques from the ISS and how she and their children fared while he was in space. 5:29

Kononenko, meanwhile, was asked if he was enjoying the weather and replied he was "happy to see any kind of weather."

Saint-Jacques, a native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days, and Canadian officials lauded Saint-Jacques's accomplishment shortly after his return.

"Not only did his journey on the International Space Station show our youth the rewards that come with dreaming big and reaching for the stars, but the scientific research David conducted will also push the limits of our understanding of the universe, as well as human health in space and on Earth," Innovation and Science Minister Navdeep Bains said in a statement.

Took part in hours-long spacewalk

Saint-Jacques' mission began ahead of schedule on Dec. 3, when he was part of the first crewed Soyuz mission following a rocket mishap last October that forced a spacecraft carrying two astronauts to abort and make an emergency landing.

The 49-year-old took part in a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk in April and a "cosmic catch" of SpaceX Dragon cargo using Canadarm2 — the first time a Canadian astronaut has operated the robotic arm to perform the feat.

The Soyuz MS-11 capsule carrying the ISS crew heads in for a landing. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The engineer, astrophysicist and family doctor also oversaw science experiments and had discussions with kids across the country during his mission.

In the last news conference Saint-Jacques held before his trip home, he said he was spending his final hours in orbit running through the re-entry procedure and doing last-minute technical checks on equipment. "It's hard to believe. It's been a very full mission," he said Wednesday.

Recovery a priority for CSA

Saint-Jacques told reporters he's aware of the physical challenges that await after six months in zero gravity, including blood circulation problems, muscle pains and an elongated spine that will return to normal. It could mean trouble walking and moving around for awhile.

A search and rescue team works at the landing site Tuesday. (Alexander Nemenov/Reuters)

Saint-Jacques' recovery is first and foremost on the minds of Canadian Space Agency officials.

"A big aspect for us here at the agency is to prepare his return in the next few weeks — rehabilitation, physical reconditioning, adapting back to life at 1G," said Gilles Leclerc, the agency's director of space exploration.

Saint-Jacques is expected to take part in a news conference on Friday from Houston and will return to Canada in mid-July to visit the agency, just south of Montreal.

As for the next mission, Leclerc said negotiations are underway to have another member of the corps serve aboard the International Space Station before 2024.

With files from CBC's Chris Brown, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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