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ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is all smiles after arriving in Cologne, Germany, less than a day after leaving the International Space Station.

Speaking to media, she said, “I’m happy to be back and thankful for this incredible opportunity. I’m looking forward to be with my loved ones now and also to continue the scientific experiments during the post-flight phase.”

Samantha and her Expedition 67/68 crew mates NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins undocked from the Space Station on 14 October at 18:05 CEST.

After a series of burns, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Freedom transporting Crew-4 entered Earth’s atmosphere and deployed parachutes for a soft water-landing. They splashed down off the coast of Florida nearly fives hours later, at 22:55 CEST.

The journey wasn’t quite over for Samantha’s ‘direct return’. She boarded a plane from Florida to Cologne, Germany, home of the European Astronaut Centre and the German Aerospace Cetner’s (DLR) :envihab facility where ESA astronauts are monitored after their space residency.

During Mission Minerva, Samantha logged another 170 days in space, bringing her cumulative time off-planet to 369 days. During this time, she supported numerous European experiments and many more international experiments in microgravity.

Among the highlights of her mission are Samantha’s first spacewalk in an Orlan suit, outfitting the European Robotic Arm alongside Oleg Artemyev; assuming the role of Space Station commander as fifth European and first European woman, to hold the leadership position; and becoming the first astronaut to take their science communication to TikTok. Read more memories from mission Minerva here.

Missions to the International Space Station such as Minerva are an important part of ESA’s Terrae Novae exploration programme that will take us to the Moon and Mars. Read more about ESA’s vision here.