A Russian Soyuz capsule landed on the Kazakh steppe on Monday, delivering a trio of astronauts from a four-month stint on the International Space Station.
The capsule, carrying US astronaut Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, parachuted through a cloudless sky and touched down in a cloud of dust at 0253 GMT.
“We have landed,” an announcer at Russia’s mission control in Moscow announced to applause.
The crew returned after spending 123 days in orbit aboard the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex involving 15 countries and orbiting 385 km above Earth.
The mission was shorter than the usual six months after launch delays caused by a problem with the initial Soyuz spacecraft.
Moscow hopes Monday’s smooth landing will help to ease concerns over relying solely on Russia to service the space station following a string of recent mishaps in its space programme.
Padalka conducted a six-hour spacewalk on 20 August to relocate a crane, launch a small science satellite and install micrometeoroid shields on the space station’s Zvezda command module.
“Everyone feels great,” Padalka said after the descent module passed through deorbit burn on its journey home and was entering a brief period of silence due to orbital shadow.
Three other International Space Station crew members – veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide – remain in orbit.
They are scheduled to be joined by another trio – Kevin Ford, Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin – due to blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next month.
Since the retirement of the space shuttles last year, the United States is dependent on Russia to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, which costs the nation $60 million per person.