ISS Astronauts Land Safely, Undergo NASA Testing To Determine Medical Effects Of Lengthy Spaceflights [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on September 12, 2013 12:01 PM EDT

soyuz
Three ISS astronauts landed safely in a field in Kazakhstan on Tuesday morning after 166 days in space. (Photo: NASA)

A trio of American and Russian astronauts departed the International Space Station and landed in a field in Kazakhstan yesterday, touching down safely in a Russian Soyuz capsule. The three astronauts, NASA's Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos's Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, bade farewell to the Expedition 37 crew aboard the ISS before getting into the capsule and travelling three-and-a-half hours down to the Earth's surface. The astronauts had been in space for 166 days.

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Recovery crews and medical staff greeted the ISS astronauts to help the men out of the capsule. The astronauts underwent medical checks and placed calls to family and friends. They were helped into reclining chairs as their bodies began to acclimate to gravity.  

Cassidy will take part in a project to determine how long-duration spaceflight affects astronauts. With the prospect of astronauts one day taking the long journey to Mars -- it took the Curiosity Rover over eight months to get to Mars -- space agencies are very interested in any information that would help them understand what sort of medical conditions a Mars crew may be confronted with.     

"And the question is, what is their condition, what can we expect them to do?" said Mike Suffredini, space station program manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas "And it will kind of lead our thinking on how the first few days of any exploration mission would take place to make sure the crew doesn't hurt themselves in the process of landing and getting themselves ready to operate on the surface of a foreign planet."

Balance, strength, vision and endurance are just some of the things that spaceflight can affect, according to NASA. The space agency says that this new research project, called the Functional Task Test, is important because it's the first time they're testing astronauts immediately after touching back down on Earth

"Exploration-class missions beyond low-Earth orbit are challenging the human experience on every level," said John Charles, chief of the International Science Office in NASA's Human Research Program. "We are evaluating risks associated with travel to Mars because they encompass the range of risks that astronauts are likely to encounter during other missions leading up to the Mars mission." 

Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL, told CBS Radio that he expects to experience poor balance and coordination for a while. Cassidy participated in a 2009 shuttle flight, and said he's curious to see how his body reacts to the 166 days in space, as compared to his 2009 mission of only 15 days.

"At face value, the tasks that I'll be doing are not super complicated," Cassidy said about the upcoming tests. "From sitting in a chair, standing up, from lying down flat to standing up and some small jumps, I think, just a few basic things I did pre-flight. They have video of how my body reacts to those things when I'm normally adjusted to one G, and I'll do those again very soon after landing in the medical tent."

The three ISS astronauts will be flown to nearby Karaganda, with the two Russians heading back to Star City, near Moscow, and Cassidy flying to Houston.

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