Three recent crewmembers from the International Space Station are back on terra firma.
Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Russian space agency Roscosmos and Kimiya Yui of Japanese space agency JAXA undocked their Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the space station at 4:49 a.m. EST on Dec. 11. The Soyuz landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan at 8:18 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. Kazakhstan time). NASA confirmed word of the safe landing by 8:20 a.m., noting the vessel had come to rest in a manner typical of high ground winds.
All manned spaceflights in recent years have been under the aegis of Roscosmos, which has been using the Kazakhstan desert for launches and landings until a new spaceport in the far East of Russia is completed.
The U.S. hopes to resume manned missions to the ISS in 2017 or soon thereafter. NASA has awarded contracts for such missions to Boeing and SpaceX.
The latest landing concluded a 141-day stint for the trio of flight engineers, who were aboard the ISS since July.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly continues to serve as commander of the multinational space station. His crewmates are Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, both of Roscosmos.
The station will continue with a crew of just three until the arrival of three additional crew members in four days. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of the European Space Agency are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Dec. 15.
Kelly and Kornienko are scheduled to spend an entire year in space, or twice the typical stay at the station. Their long tenure is designed to give researchers a chance to study the medical and psychological challenges of long spaceflights.