The photo below shows the Soyuz spacecraft landing on the flat steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia around 11 p.m. eastern time on Sept. 10. Inside the capsule was NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin. All three men were returning to Earth after five and a half months on the International Space Station.
The large parachute seen in the picture is the last of four parachutes that are deployed starting 15 minutes before landing. The main parachute slows the rate of descent to 24 feet per second — still too fast for a soft landing. Landing engines on the bottom of the vehicle fire just one second before touchdown to slow the vehicle down. That’s the source of the ball of flames in the picture. It also means this photo was taken at the exact moment of touchdown.
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