By Rich McKay
(Reuters) – Three members of the International Space Station’s crew returned safely to Earth on Thursday, landing in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz craft, NASA reported.
It was the first return from the space station since October, when U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin landed unharmed on the Kazakh steppe after their rocket bound for the station failed two minutes after liftoff.
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor landed along with her German crewmate Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev at 12:02 a.m. EST (11:02 a.m. local time, 0502 GMT), NASA said in a blog post.
Auñón-Chancellor had been in space for 197 days and contributed to hundreds of scientific experiments aboard the orbiting space station.
NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle programme in 2011, though the agency has announced plans for test flights carrying two astronauts on commercial rockets made by Boeing and SpaceX next April.
The crew were reported to be in good condition and Auñón-Chancellor is expected to return home to Houston following medical checks, NASA said.
The October accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a crewed Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.
Three crew remain on the station: NASA’s Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko. Three additional crew will join them in February.
(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)