Three astronauts returned to Earth Thursday after more than six months aboard the International Space Station.
A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor, Russian Sergey Prokopyev and German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency landed on the snow-covered steppes in Kazakhstan, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan. They touched down a minute ahead of schedule at 11:02 a.m. local time (0502 GMT; 12:02 a.m. EST).
The crew radioed that they were feeling fine. Russian rescue teams in helicopters and all-terrain vehicles rushed to the landing site to extract the astronauts from the capsule charred by a fiery ride through atmosphere.
The trio has spent 197 days in space. It was the first mission for Aunon-Chancellor and Prokopyev, while Gerst flew his second to a total of 362 days in orbit, setting the ESA's flight duration record.
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The rescue crews helped the crew in their balky space suits leave the capsule and conducted an initial medical examination. The astronauts will be taken to Dzhezkazgan for a brief welcome ceremony before being flown to their respective countries for more thorough check-ups.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, who have arrived at the station earlier this month, are set to remain in orbit until June.