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'Hard landing' as three astronauts return to Earth from ISS
Moscow (AFP) June 11, 2015

Expedition 43 crew says bye to ISS, lands safely in Kazakhstan
Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan (UPI) Jun 11, 2015 - The International Space Station's Expedition 43 crew are safely back on Earth, having successfully touched down in their Soyuz capsule at 9:44 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

Expedition 43 was led by Commander Terry Virts, the crew's only member from NASA. He was joined on the 199-day mission by Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.

The crew was merrily greeted by family, journalists and space agency officials in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

While on board, the three crew members performed a number of spacewalks and executed several technology upgrades and repairs. They also performed a variety of scientific experiments and participated in studies aimed at better understanding the health effects of microgravity.

The crew's homecoming was supposed to happen last month, but the failure of Russia's robotic Progress 58 cargo mission forced officials to delay planned return. Their departure was almost disrupted again, when a communication glitch caused the docked Soyuz capsule to inadvertently fire its rockets -- briefly throwing the space station's orbit off kilter.

The delay wasn't all bad, though. The extra time in space allowed Cristoforetti to set the record for longest space mission by a woman, besting NASA astronaut Suni Williams' previous record of 195 days.

Until three new crew members arrive in late July, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will be the sole occupiers of the International Space Station.

"Kelly and Kornienko are on the first joint U.S.-Russian one-year mission, an important stepping stone on NASA's journey to Mars," officials explained in a recent press release.

Three astronauts landed in Kazakhstan on Thursday, safely returning to Earth after their flight back home was delayed for a month by a Russian rocket failure.

Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts of the United States landed on schedule on the steppes of Kazakhstan and appeared to be in good health.

Both Russian mission control and NASA reported no glitches, but Shkaplerov, the commander of the Soyuz spacecraft, said their landing was "hard and quick."

"For some reason, we were spinning," he said in comments broadcast on national television and cited by Russian journalists. No other details were provided.

The 43-year-old cosmonaut added however that "everything worked accurately."

All eyes were trained on the flight back home for the astronauts after Russia was in May forced to delay their return, as well as the departure of their replacements, because a supply ship had crashed back to Earth following a rocket failure.

Upon landing the trio emerged out of the capsule with the help of recovery teams, giving the thumbs up and smiling under a setting sun.

Seated in a chair to allow him to adjust to gravity, Shkaplerov said he hoped such "joint work" would continue in the future.

"It was a textbook homecoming," a NASA commentator said.

A spokesman for the Russian mission control said that the Soyuz descent module landed southeast of the town of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan, after detaching from the ISS more than three hours previously.

"Everything is fine, everything is okay," he told AFP.

The Roscosmos space agency said separately that the three crew members were "feeling well."

The Twitter account of the ISS said the trio were to be "checked by docs, depart to Karaganda then split up to US & Russia."

The austronauts ended up spending nearly 200 days on the station, with Cristoforetti, 38, breaking the record for the longest single stay by a woman in space.

The Italian air force pilot has gained world-wide popularity -- and nearly half a million followers on Twitter -- posting dramatic pictures from space and even giving cooking classes.

"So long... and thanks for all the fish!" Italy's first female astronaut wrote on Twitter before starting the journey home, using a quote from Douglas Adams' cult science fiction novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Their 199-day mission included several spacewalks, technology demonstrations, and hundreds of scientific experiments, NASA said.

"During their time aboard the orbiting laboratory, the crew members participated in a variety of research activities focusing on the effects of microgravity on cells, Earth observation, physical science, and biological and molecular science," it said.

- Studying Venus -

The International Space Station is one of the few areas of cooperation between Russia and the United States that has not been hit by the crisis in Ukraine.

Russian and US scientists are keen to study Venus together, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Fortov told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

"We have agreed on some additional projects to study space, to study Venus -- that had earlier been in doubt," Fortov was quoted as saying by the Kremlin.

The next manned mission to the ISS is due to blast off on July 23, the Russian space agency said on Thursday, launching from Kazakhstan with astronauts from Russia, Japan and the US.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian Oleg Kononenko and Japan's Kimiya Yui will join Russia's Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly of NASA who are continuing research and maintenance aboard the station.

Russia's space programme was hit by two failures within weeks in May, with the Progress crash followed by the failure of a Proton rocket carrying a Mexican satellite.

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