French astronaut to return from space

Astronaut in helmet with French flag on shoulder
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet suits up for his second spacewalk from the International Space Station

His photographs of France and the world have been viewed by millions - and two spacewalks made the space station safer

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet returns to terra firma today after 196 days in space and his Soyuz capsule is due to land in the steppes in Kazakhstan just after 16.00 (French time).

He and Russian colleague Oleg Novitski will undock from the International Space Station at 12.50 this afternoon at the end of a mission that has seen him perform numerous scientific experiments and perform two spacewalks to work to carry out safety work on the outside of the ISS.

Despite a gruelling work schedule Thomas has been very active on social media while in space – organising a ‘mannequin challenge’, performing readings from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, and cheering on France at rugby in the Six Nations.

But he spent much of his spare time in the glassed cupola observation room and photographed the Earth – and especially France – from 400km for millions worldwide to see. He also publicised French gastronomy and conducted a school class from space with 230,000 collège pupils. Thomas even took time out on his spacewalk to take a selfie.

astronaut on spacewalk
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet took a selfie on his spacewalk

The former engineer and Air France pilot is 39 and the youngest of the European Space Agency astronauts. He is the 10th French person in space.

His photos from space have been viewed worldwide and one, of the northern lights just on the horizon, was shared by millions.

Here is an ESA video showing the whole process of the undocking, re-entry and landing… and revealing that that hard thump into the ground on landing is just as hard as it looks… “like a truck hitting a small car” plus some of his most beautiful tweets.

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