American, Russian and Japanese crew members make first manned landing since retirement of Nasa space shuttles.
A Russian Soyuz capsule has landed safely in Kazakhstan, bringing back three astronauts after nearly six months on the International Space Station (ISS) in the first manned landing since Nasa retired its space shuttles in July.
Mike Fossum from the US, Satoshi Furukawa from Japan and Sergei Volkov from Russia landed shortly before sunrise on Tuesday on the snowbound steppe of central Kazakhstan.
"The landing was great. Everything’s good," said Volkov, flashing a thumbs-up signal on exit from the Soyuz TMA-02 capsule, blackened by the extreme temperatures on re-entry to the atmosphere.
The closure of Nasa’s shuttle programme means Russian spaceships are the only way to ferry goods and crews to and from the ISS – which is shared by 16 nations – until commercial firms develop the ability to transport crews.
Russia hopes the textbook landing will help to restore confidence in its space programme after the August crash of an unmanned Russian cargo flight led to the suspension of manned space missions.
The returning crew have been replaced in orbit by Nasa’s Daniel Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, whose successful launch last week allayed fears that the station would be left empty for the first time in a decade.
The troubles have left the space station with half the usual handover time. The new crew had only six days with the outgoing astronauts to get up to speed on life in space and the station’s operations.
Nasa said the Soyuz capsule had landed on its side, not unusual in windy conditions, about 55 miles (90km) north of the town of Arkalyk.