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Astronauts return to Earth on Soyuz space capsule after 115-day mission

A joint U.S., Russian and Japanese crew left the International Space Station on Saturday and headed back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule, leaving behind three crew mates who arrived at the orbiting outpost just last week.

Station commander Anatoly Ivanishin, with the Russian space agency, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Japan’s Takuya Onishi climbed inside the capsule and left the station at 8:35 p.m. ET a NASA TV broadcast showed.

The trio made a parachute landing in Kazakhstan at 11:58 p.m. ET wrapping up a four-month mission that included the first use of a DNA sequencer in space and installation of a parking spot for upcoming commercial space taxis.

In total, they spent 115 days in space.

Russia Space

Rubins, left, Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin, centre, and Japan’s Takuya Onishi sit in chairs and readjust to gravity just minutes after they landed. (Bill Ingalls/NASA/Associated Press)

The capsule landed as scheduled Sunday morning near Dzhezkazgan on the treeless Central Asian steppes. It was closely tracked by helicopters as it wafted through partly cloudy skies under a parachute marked in red and white concentric circles. The craft landed upright, which made the extraction of the astronauts quicker than when capsules land on their sides.

The astronauts sat on the steppes, still in their capsule seats, while they readjusted to the forces of gravity after nearly four months in weightless conditions before being taken to a nearby medical tent for initial examination.

Change of command

“I’m kind of reluctant to close the hatch,” Ivanishin said during a change-of-command ceremony aboard the ISS on Friday.

SPACE-STATION/LANDING

The capsule landed as scheduled and was closely tracked by helicopters as it wafted through partly cloudy skies. (Dmitri Lovetsky/Reuters)

“The time is very special here … I didn’t have time to know what’s going on our planet, and maybe it’s for the better. On the space station, you live in a very friendly, very good environment.”

Ivanishin turned over command of the space station, a $100 billion US orbiting research lab, to newly arrived U.S. astronaut Shane Kimbrough.

Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko reached the outpost on Oct. 21.

“We’re sorry we’re only here a week with you,” Kimbrough told the departing crew after taking command on Friday. “You guys have trained us well though.”

Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko will be on their own until next month, when another three crew members are due to reach the station, a project of 15 nations that orbits about 418 kilometres above Earth.