Astronauts return safely to Earth from Space Station

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Three members of the International Space Station’s crew returned safely to Earth on Thursday, landing in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz craft, NASA reported.

It was the first return from the space station since October, when U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin landed unharmed on the Kazakh steppe after their rocket bound for the station failed two minutes after liftoff.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor landed along with her German crewmate Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev at 12:02 a.m. EST (11:02 a.m. local time, 0502 GMT), NASA said in a blog post.

Ground personnel help International Space Station (ISS) crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany to get out of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule after landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Ground personnel help International Space Station (ISS) crew member Sergey Prokopyev of Russia to get out of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule after landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Search and rescue team approaches the Soyuz MS-09 capsule, carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew members Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S., Alexander Gerst of Germany and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia, shortly after landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The International Space Station (ISS) crew members Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S., Alexander Gerst of Germany and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia rest after the landing of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Ground personnel help International Space Station (ISS) crew member Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S. to get out of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule after landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
International Space Station (ISS) crew member Sergey Prokopyev of Russia rests after the landing of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
International Space Station (ISS) crew member Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S. reacts as she rests after the landing of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
International Space Station (ISS) crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany rests after the landing of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Search and rescue personnel surround the Soyuz MS-09 capsule for the International Space Station (ISS) crew members Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S., Alexander Gerst of Germany and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia after its landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, stands near the Soyuz MS-09 capsule for the International Space Station (ISS) crew members Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S., Alexander Gerst of Germany and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia shortly after its landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Auñón-Chancellor had been in space for 197 days and contributed to hundreds of scientific experiments aboard the orbiting space station.

NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, though the agency has announced plans for test flights carrying two astronauts on commercial rockets made by Boeing and SpaceX next April.

The crew were reported to be in good condition and Auñón-Chancellor is expected to return home to Houston following medical checks, NASA said.

The October accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a crewed Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.

Three crew remain on the station: NASA’s Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko. Three additional crew will join them in February.

(Reuters)

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