A capsule carrying two US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut from the International Space Station has landed in Kazakhstan. The two countries, beset by rivalries and tensions, enjoyed a rare moment of common joy.
Cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin from the Russian space agency Roscosmos and US astronauts Joe Acaba (pictured above) and Mark Vande Hei, from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), landed their Soyuz spacecraft safely back on Earth on Wednesday.
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The capsule landed in a snow-covered hillside about 145 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of the central Kazakhstan city of Dzhezkazgan at 8.31 a.m. (0231 UTC) after 168 days on the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA stopped manned launches to the ISS in 2011 but recently moved to increase its crew complement aboard the ISS
The ISS, a rare example of American and Russian international cooperation, has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.
The are due to be replaced by NASA's Andrew Feustel and Richard Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos, whose spacecraft will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, also in Kazakhstan, on March 21.
Acaba on Sunday tweeted a photo of his hands framing the Earth as viewed from the ISS's famous "Cupola" observation module.
"The future of our home is in all of our hands. May we all care for #Earth and practice good stewardship," he wrote.
NASA stopped its own manned launches to the ISS in 2011 but recently moved to increase its crew aboard the ISS as the Russians cut theirs in a cost-saving measure announced last year.
The ISS laboratory is a $100 billion (€88 billion) lab orbiting about 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth.
jbh/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)