Astronauts from three countries have completed a rare nighttime landing on Earth in the wintry Kazakh steppe. The touchdown completes joint-mission aboard the International Space Station.
Three astronauts returned to Earth after nearly five months in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The Soyuz TMA-17M capsule carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui landed in frigid conditions in Kazahkstan.
They touched down on schedule at 7:12 p.m. local time (1312 UTC) about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan.
The trio had spent 141 days inside the ISS after lifting off from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in July.
International Space Station
The ISS space laboratory has been orbiting the Earth at roughly 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,400 mph) since 1998.
Kononenko reported to the Russian Mission Control that the crew was feeling fine as the capsule parachuted through thick clouds before landing softly in darkness on the wind-swept steppe.
Russian rescue teams in four helicopters arrived quickly at the landing site to help the crew get out of the capsule, which rested on its side in the snow.
"They have landed safely and the recovery team have found them,” a spokesman for Russian space agency Roscosmos said. “Everything is according to plan.”
Because of the cold temperatures and strong winds, the crew was quickly flown to Dzhezkazgan after a brief medical check.
In warmer weather, the crew undergoes a post-flight medical check-up in a tent at the landing site.
Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Russia remain on the station. They will be joined by three new crew members next Tuesday: NASA's Tim Kopra, Russia's Yuri Malenchenko and the European Space Agency's Tim Peake.
Less than an hour after the Soyuz crew touched down on earth, a Ukranian-designed Zenit rocket lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome carrying a Russian weather satellite.
The launch marked the 83rd time the Zenit rocket has been launched into space since its first flight in 1985.
jar/bw (dpa, AFP, AP)