Space exploration: How do astronauts return to Earth?

Did You Know: Space – How do astronauts return to Earth?

Astronauts travel between Earth and the International Space Station in the Soyuz spacecraft.

The craft fits three astronauts and takes around three and a half hours to return from the space station back to Earth.

Ready to depart

The departing astronauts say goodbye and close the hatch to the Soyuz spacecraft.

They then make sure the Soyuz is ready to return them home safely before undocking from the space station.

Journey home

The Soyuz’s descent module separates from the spacecraft and it leaves orbit. A special heat-shield protects the module as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Then, parachutes open 15 minutes before landing.


One second before landing, engines fire to soften the impact. The crew also sit in specially molded seats, to help make the landing as comfortable as possible.

Exit team

A team tracks where the descent module lands and rush to find the astronauts to help them out of the spacecraft.

Back on Earth

The astronauts are now out of the spacecraft and back on Earth. After being in space for so long, it takes them a little while to adjust to the gravity on the Earth.

How did the space shuttle land?

Runway finish

When the space shuttle flew, it would return to the Earth like a glider and land on a runway.

A special drag chute would help slow it down as it landed.