A U.S. astronaut and Russian cosmonaut returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz TMA-16 capsule March 18 that landed in snow on the frigid steppes of Kazakhstan. Russian flight engineer Maxim Suraev and space station commander Jeffrey Williams spent nearly six months aboard the international space station.

Before departing, Williams turned control of the space station over to veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov.

Williams and Suraev’s departure left Kotov and two other astronauts — one American and one Japanese — as the station’s only residents until April 4, when a new Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to arrive carrying two Russians and an America.

NASA plans to launch the Space Shuttle Discovery on April 5 on a 13-day mission to deliver a cargo pod filled with new science gear and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

That mission will be the second of five final shuttle missions planned for 2010 before the shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in the fall.