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I assume, with the advent of the ISS, it is common for astronauts to return to earth in a different capsule to the one on which they arrived. (I may be wrong) but do we know who the first person or people were to return to earth from orbit in a different vessel to the one that took them there? Was there someone on Skylab or Mir who did the same?

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The first people who landed in a different vessel than they took off in were Aleksei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov. In January 1969, they took off in Soyuz-4 and returned in Soyuz-5. Crew exchange between directly docked spacecraft was the primary purpose of the Soyuz-4/Soyuz-5 mission.

Mission details: The First Crew Exchange in Space

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The first spacecraft switch using an orbital station took place much later, only in January 1978. Then the crew of the Soyuz-27 spacecraft (Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Oleg Makarov) returned in Soyuz-26 after spending five days on the Salyut-6 station.

Speaking of orbital stations, it's interesting to mention that Skylab (launched in May 1973) also had two docking modules (as the Salyut-6 had), so a similar "station-based crew exchange" could potentially happen earlier. However, there were only three non-overlapping expeditions to this station, with all the crews returning to Earth with their initial vessels. The Skylab Rescue mission was on standby from August 1973 to February 1974 in case of emergency.

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    @LangLangC Thanks! I think the Apollo 9 can fit the Q (at least partially) since we can count the LM as a different vessel even if they are launched all together. I think I'll add this into my A. especially since it was just less than 2 months after the Soyuz-4/5 mission. – seven-phases-max Feb 18 at 12:36
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    I was thinking along the lines of "Something that went into space on a different launch vehicle" as per this answer. @LangLangC All Cosmonauts are Astronauts, but not all Astronauts are Cosmonauts! (This may make less sense if translated to Russian!) – JeffUK Feb 18 at 13:58
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    I'd say "nauting" a star may be pretty uncomfortable so for me an Astronaut is just a weird way to refer to a Cosmonaut :) – seven-phases-max Feb 18 at 14:08
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    I wouldn't recommend stating 'lunar module', because that was not aerodynamic and had no heat shield, that being non-necessary for a lunar landing. Apollo 9 was a low Earth orbit test of the LM but the crew achieved re-entry in the Command Module, as on all manned missions in the Apollo series. – Ed999 Feb 18 at 16:54
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    The answer to the slightly different (but imho interesting) question "who first returned on a different type of vehicle" is: Norman Thagard, Gennady Strekalov, and Vladimir Dezhurov. Those three astronauts/cosmonauts flew to MIR on 14 Mar 1995 in a Soyuz (TM-21) and returned to Earth on Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-71) three months later on 27 June 1995. That's a pretty cool trip I'd say! – user2705196 Feb 18 at 21:56

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