Three astronauts return to Earth from ISS in Russian Soyuz capsule


MOSCOW–A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts on Sunday landed on schedule in the Kazakh steppe, the Russian mission control said. “At 12:14 Moscow time (0814 GMT) the Soyuz TMA-03M capsule landed with an international crew,” Russian flight control centre said after Russian Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers were parachuted to Earth. “All the operations on descending from orbit and landing went by without any concerns,” Russian flight control said in a statement posted on its website. “The crew members who have returned to Earth are feeling well,” it added.

The capsule descended through an overcast sky to land in a grassy field with the three men who had spent more than six months on the International Space Station.

The astronauts, weakened by their landing, were extracted from the capsule and lowered into armchairs in the steppe, chatting to rescue workers and speaking on a telephone to family members, in footage shown live on NASA TV. The expedition commander Oleg Kononenko, who was first to be pulled from the descent module, looked pale and blinked in the daylight as the men adjusted to gravity after spending a total of 192 days in space. The men blasted off on December 21 from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking with the ISS two days later. While on the ISS, Kononenko took part in a two-man spacewalk lasting more than six hours. The men leave three astronauts on the ISS: Joe Acaba, Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, who will be reinforced later this month with three more crew members expected to blast off from Kazakhstan on July 14. The next Soyuz flight will take up NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian Yuri Malenchenko and Akihiko Hoshide of Japan, who are due to stay on the ISS until November.