updated 11/26/2010 12:27:00 AM ET 2010-11-26T05:27:00

Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut safely returned to Earth tonight after a five-month-long stay at the International Space Station.

Americans Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, landed in their Russian Soyuz TMA-19 space capsule on the central steppes of Kazakhstan on Nov. 25 at 11:46 p.m. EST (0446 GMT on Nov. 26).

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin wrapped up the five-month mission at the International Space Station, where they completed scientific experiments and performed general maintenance activities for the orbiting laboratory. Wheelock even executed three emergency spacewalks with his crewmate, Tracy Caldwell Dyson (who returned to Earth on Sept. 25), to fix one of the station's vital cooling pumps after it malfunctioned in mid-August. Walker and Yurchikhin assisted in the repair efforts from inside the station.

The trio launched to the space station on a Soyuz rocket on June 15. While living aboard the orbiting outpost, Wheelock actively engaged in social media, using Twitter to post stunning pictures taken from 220 miles (354 kilometers) above Earth.

"We're always looking for ways to bring the views that we see out the window, and the things that we're experiencing in the way of science onboard the station and the experience we have inside back to Earth so folks can enjoy them," Wheelock said in an in-flight interview. "It's been a real thrill to be able to do that." [ Gallery: Space Station Windows on the World ]

After months in space, however, returning to Earth will have its perks.

"I'm just really looking forward to the simple things," Wheelock said. "Probably the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is hot, running water taking a shower. I haven't had a shower since June, so I'm looking forward to that. And really looking forward to feeling a breeze against my face, just smelling the Earth and all the vegetation, and experiencing the feel of the Earth again."

  1. Space news from
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

Still, Wheelock was quick to reflect on the lasting impact of a long-duration stay in space.

"It really makes you feel quite insignificant in the whole scheme of things, but really makes you turn inward to define yourself and your purpose," Wheelock said.

After landing, the returning spaceflyers will be retrieved by a recovery team and flown to Kustanai, Kazakhstan. From there, Yurchikhin will return to Russia's Federal Space Agency headquarters in Moscow, while Wheelock and Walker journey back to NASA's astronaut headquarters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Soyuz landing, originally planned for Nov. 30, was moved up a few days to avoid conflicting with the start of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit, which is being held in Astana, Kazakhstan, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. The meeting will attract heads of state from around the world to discuss international security issues.

With their departure, Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin left behind their fellow station crewmembers: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri. The space station will be home to only three people until mid-December, when NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, European astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Russian cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev arrive to round out the outpost's Expedition 26 crew.

You can follow Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter@denisechow.

© 2013 All rights reserved. More from

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments