June 22, 2011 at 5:31 PM ET
Once the shuttle Atlantis returns from its final mission, the only way to get into orbit and back for the next several years is going to be on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The landing is an experience completely different from the precise routine associated with a space shuttle touchdown: Spacefliers can't predict exactly where their parachute will take them. Heck, they actually carry handguns to ward off the wild animals on the Kazakh steppes.
We traditionally see pictures of the Soyuz capsule drifting down to its landing, the astronauts being hoisted out of their craft and helped to their easy chairs for a photo op. Usually, that's about it. But last month, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly documented the full experience of heading down from Moscow to Kazakhstan for the most recent Soyuz landing — and the result is this half-hour video travelogue. Don't worry, no guns had to be drawn. The most threatening critter you'll see is a lizard that almost crawled up Byerly's boot. And you'll get a behind-the-scenes look at Kazakh culture and U.S.-Russian space cooperation.
"Sort of an interesting take on what our future looks like in about a month or two," Byerly told me in an email.You can connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page or following @b0yle on Twitter. Also, give a look to "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.