Soyuz crew lands safely

Astronauts back ahead of schedule

US astronaut Shannon  Walker rests  after landing near Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan on Friday. AP

Soyuz commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker landed at 4:47 GMT near Arkalyk in the steppe of Kazakhstan four days earlier than originally planned. They have been on the the ISS since June 18.

“Lowering from orbit and landing operations were carried out as planned. The cosmonauts are in good health,” Russian Mission Control said.

“So long, guys, we are going home!” Yurchikhin said over footage of the Soyuz floating away from the station.

Four hours later the first television reports showed the three crew members sitting near the landing site covered in blankets and smiling. “Hi Mom!” said a giant sign held up by Wheelock.

They were served tea immediately amid temperatures of around -10 degrees Celsius. Walker and Wheelock will fly straight to the United States from Kazakhstan while Yurchikhin will return to Moscow.

Five space launches are planned for December, including one manned Soyuz launch and four Glonass-type satellites, said Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov. He said a joint flight to Mars is still planned for 2030 by 26 space agencies. “Of course a flight like that can be done individually by US, Russia, or China. But given the cost and reasonability, everyone is in favour of a joint programme.”

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