Three Spaceflyers Return to Earth in Russian Soyuz

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A Russian Soyuz spacecraft landed June 2 in Kazakhstan to return a cosmonaut and two astronauts back home from the international space station after nearly six months in space.

The Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft touched down at about 9:25 a.m. local time on the central steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and two crewmates — one each from the United States and Japan — onboard.

Recovery crews reported that the Soyuz capsule had tilted on its side after landing, which has happened before, but overall it was a smooth landing, NASA officials said.

Kotov, U.S. astronaut Timothy Creamer and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi made up half of the space station’s full six-person crew and had lived aboard the orbiting laboratory since mid-December.

The Soyuz TMA-17 landed just hours after undocking from the space station  as both spacecraft flew about 346 kilometers above Mongolia. Kotov said the undocking went extremely smoothly.

During their 163 days in space, Kotov and his crewmates hosted three visiting NASA space shuttle missions. Those flights delivered a new NASA room, seven-window observation deck and vital spare parts and supplies.

The most recent visit by NASA’s shuttle Atlantis in May delivered a new $200 million Russian research module called Rassvet (which means “dawn” in Russian).

On May 31, Kotov officially turned control of the space station over to its new Expedition 24 commander, Alexander Skvortsov, who arrived at the space station in early April with U.S astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. The spaceflyers initially joined the Expedition 23 crew and will now remain behind to await the arrival of three new crewmembers slated to launch from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome June 15.

That Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft will launch with veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and American astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker on a new six-month mission that will also span several station expedition crews.