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Astronaut trio safely returns to earth despite bad weather

A US and two Russian astronauts have returned to earth after nearly six months on the International Space Station. The trio, who carried the Sochi Olympic torch into space landed safely in Kazakhstan despite bad weather.

The capsule carrying American Mike Hopkins and Russians Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy touched down as scheduled at 9:24 a.m. (0324 UTC) on Tuesday southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan, NASA said in a live TV broadcast.

"We have landing!" read a large TV screen at Russia's Mission Control outside of Moscow.

The three astronauts conducted 35 experiments while in space, in addition to carrying the Sochi Winter Olympic torch to the ISS. On November 9, they took the iconic flame outside the station for

a historic space walk

.

The astronauts returned safely from their 166-day mission aboard the ISS despite heavy snowfalls and strong winds during their landing. Russian space officials had considered postponing the landing by a day, but it was eventually decided to go ahead with the original plan.

NASA TV showed all-terrain rescue and recovery vehicles traveling across a snowy Kazakhstan steppe to meet the Russian Soyuz TMA-10M capsule. "The crew are reported to be in good health," NASA said.

The bad weather conditions meant officials did not set up an inflatable tent at the landing site for routine medical tests. The crew instead underwent quick tests before being flown by helicopters to the Kazakh town of Karaganda for a formal welcome ceremony.

"There's a lot of snow on the ground and the temperatures are hovering in the single-digits (Fahrenheit)," said NASA mission commentator Dan Huot.

Three astronauts remain aboard the ISS – Japanese commander Koichi Wakata, American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin. They will operate the station as a three-man team for two weeks until the next trio of crew members arrives.

dr/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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