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And they’re back! Three astronauts return to planet from space station

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Three people have successfully landed back on Earth after leaving the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday September 10. The team, consisting of two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut from NASA, landed in the countryside of Kazakhstan yesterday. They were in space for 169 days.

The team hurtled toward Earth in a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft. Alexander Skvortsov helmed the commands of the rocket, and guided the craft into a rocket-assisted landing. He was accompanied by fellow ISS astronauts Oleg Artemyev and Steven Swanson. They touched down close to Dzhezkazgan in Khazakhstan early in the morning at local time, around 8:23 a.m. The feat occured at 10:23 p.m. New York time.

The tail end of the crew's landing was televised. The crew also filmed some spectacular, heart-warming footage of the three departing astronauts saying goodbye to the crewmembers that they had shared the tiny space station with for the past 169 days.

The Soyuz spacecraft made the steep descent to Earth with its fall slightly cushioned by a large orange and white parachute. The craft landed beyond the range of the video cameras. A NASA worker, Rob Navias, commenting on the landing, confirmed the touchdown, saying, "Touchdown right on the button ... on the steppe of Kazakhstan. The Expedition 40 crew -- Steve Swanson of NASA and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev -- are home, back on Earth after 169 days in space."

A crew of members, consisting of Russian cosmonaut technicians and NASA employees, were ready to assist the returning astronauts out of the spacecraft.

The three men were carried out of the spacecraft and placed on reclining chairs to receive medical examinations. Once the personnel confirmed that everything was OK, the astronauts were flown by helicopter to Karaganda, a Kazakh city where a welcoming ceremony awaited them.

After the ceremony, the three astronauts planned to make their separate ways. The two Russian cosmonauts will return to Moscow, to a training center for cosmonauts. Swanson will fly to Houston to return to the Johnson Space Center.

The team departed from the International Space Station at 7:01 p.m. when the station was directly over Mongolia.

"Goodbye, station," Skvortsov said, as he and two other ISS crew members departed on the Soyuz shuttle.

The astronauts successfully re-entered Earth's atmosphere. The entire descent from the space station to landing on Earth took only about three hours and 20 minutes.

In anticipation of the trip, Swanson said on Monday, "I've heard it's quite an eventful trip. I haven't experienced it yet myself, but from what I've been told it's definitely the big ride at Disney World."

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