NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor waves from a chair after landing in a Russian Soyuz capsule with Alexander Gerst and Sergey Prokopyev. They had been in space for 197 days. (Bill Ingalls/NASA/AP)
Three astronauts returned to Earth Thursday after more than six months aboard the International Space Station.
A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor, Russian Sergey Prokopyev and German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency landed on the snow-covered steppes in Kazakhstan, about 140 kilometres southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan.
They touched down a minute ahead of schedule at 12:02 a.m. ET.
The crew radioed that they were feeling fine. Russian rescue teams in helicopters and all-terrain vehicles rushed to the landing site to extract the astronauts from the capsule charred by a fiery ride through atmosphere.
The trio has spent 197 days in space. It was the first mission for Aunon-Chancellor and Prokopyev, while Gerst flew his second to a total of 362 days in orbit, setting the ESA's flight duration record.
The rescue crews helped the crew in their bulky spacesuits leave the capsule and conducted an initial medical examination. The astronauts will be taken to Dzhezkazgan for a brief welcome ceremony before being flown to their respective countries for more thorough check-ups.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, who have arrived at the station earlier this month, are set to remain in orbit until June.