CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on Tuesday strapped themselves inside a Russian Soyuz capsule and flew away from the International Space Station, landing at dawn in Kazakhstan.
Station commander Jeff Williams, with NASA, and flight engineers Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, both with Russia’s Roscosmos agency, pulled away from the station at 5:51 p.m. EDT as the ships sailed 258 miles over eastern Mongolia, said NASA mission commentator Rob Navias.
“I will certainly miss this view!” Williams wrote on Twitter earlier on Tuesday, posting a picture of sunlight glinting off the planet. “Vast gratitude toward my crewmates, ground teams, supporting friends, and family.”
The capsule made its parachute landing near the Kazakh city of Zhezkazgan at 7:13 a.m. local time on Wednesday, which was 9:13 p.m. Tuesday on the East Coast.
The mission comes the same day a US space probe was cleared for launch on Thursday to collect and return samples from an asteroid in hopes of learning more about the origins of life on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system, NASA said.
Williams, 58, returns to Earth with a career total of 534 days in orbit, more time than any other astronaut in US history and 14th in the world.
The Russians remain champions of long-duration spaceflight, with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka currently the world record-holder with 878 days in space over five missions.
Before leaving the station, Williams turned over command of the $100 billion outpost, a project of 15 nations, to cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, who remains aboard the station with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Japan’s Takuya Onishi.
“We’ll be missing you here,” Ivanishin said during a change-of-command ceremony on Monday. “Have fun riding though the atmosphere … and have a very safe and exceptionally soft landing.”
A replacement crew is due to launch on Sept. 23 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Sandra Maler)
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