Image: Soyuz crew
Sergei Remezov  /  AFP - Getty Images
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka are seen inside of Russian Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft shortly after their landing near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
By
updated 3/16/2011 10:38:04 AM ET 2011-03-16T14:38:04

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts landed safely Wednesday in the snowy expanses of central Kazakhstan after spending five months on the International Space Station.

The Soyuz capsule carrying Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka landed at 1:53 p.m. local time, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the northern Kazakh city of Arkalyk.

Kelly was returning to Earth just as his twin brother Mark, husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was preparing to take part in the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission in April. Scott Kelly was shown in a NASA photo wearing a blue wristband with a peace sign, a heart and the name "Gabby."

The capsule came back amid harsh conditions, including a stiff wind that blew it on its side and rolled it 22 meters (25 yards) from its touchdown point through fresh snow.

Rob Navias, a NASA spokesman on the scene, described conditions as "like a scene from the North Pole."

The space travelers were bundled into blankets after being pulled from the capsule, then placed in reclining stretchers as they slowly acclimated to the planet's gravity after months of weightlessness.

The capsule landed about three and a half hours after undocking from the space station. After hurtling through space, it deployed a parachute about 15 minutes before touchdown, slowing its speed from 500 mph to about 180 mph (800 to 290 kilometers per hour).

A second parachute slowed its descent to 16 mph (25 kilometers per hour). Then, with the ground just a few yards (meters) away, six engines on the capsule's bottom were fired, bringing it to a gentle landing in a powdery cloud of fresh snow.

The first out was Kaleri, who has now spent a total of 770 days in space over five flights, making him the second most experienced space flier in history after compatriot Sergei Krikalyov. Navias said Kaleri smiled and winked at him as he was lifted out.

Skripochka and Kelly also appeared to be in good shape.

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"Scott Kelly is looking remarkably well," Navias said.

In a break with usual practice, search-and-recovery personnel dispensed with the ritual of taking the returning astronauts to inflatable medical tents for a checkup and instead loaded them directly onto all-terrain vehicles.

"The search and recovery team have decided it's too cold, it's too wintery, it's too Arctic out here in terms of the overall conditions," Navias said.

During his time on the space station, Kelly ran a series of challenges on his Twitter feed in which his followers had to identify locations on earth shown in photographs taken from the orbiting laboratory.

The final photo posted was of snow-covered Kazakhstan.

Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, Italy's Paolo Nespoli and American Catherine Coleman remain aboard the space station; they are to return to Earth in about three months.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Interactive: All about the International Space Station

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  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
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