Image: Spacefliers return
NASA-TV
NASA astronaut Michael Fossum is bundled up after his extraction from a Soyuz capsule, just after the end of his homeward trip from the International Space Station. Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov can be see at the right edge of the image, wearing a helmet.
By
updated 11/21/2011 9:51:23 PM ET 2011-11-22T02:51:23

After spending nearly six months aboard the International Space Station, three spacefliers returned home to Earth on Monday.

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov departed from the space station and landed on the frigid, windy Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan at about 9:26 p.m. ET Monday (8:26 a.m. local time Tuesday).

After months in orbit, the crew's homecoming featured wintry conditions, with harsh winds, below-freezing temperatures and a layer of snow covering the landing site. When it touched down, the Soyuz capsule landed on its side, which is not uncommon in windy conditions, NASA officials said; otherwise, it was a smooth and successful landing.

The trio of spacefliers undocked from the orbiting complex in their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft from the Rassvet module on the station's Russian segment earlier this evening. The two spacecraft physically separated from one another at about 6 p.m. ET as they flew over the Chinese-Mongolian border.

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    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

Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov arrived at the orbiting outpost in early June. During an in-flight media interview last week, Fossum described how quickly the time passed for him in space.

"The time has gone by in a flash," Fossum said. "The calendar says five and a half months. To me, it seems more like five and a half weeks. If you ask my wife, it's probably more like five and a half years."

Fossum is a veteran of two previous space shuttle flights, but this was his first long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. [Mission Photos: Expedition 29 to the International Space Station]

"I've dreamed about living and working on a space station since I was a kid, so this is a dream come true for me," Fossum said last week. "This has been great. I'd be more than happy to stay here a bit longer."

Over the course of three spaceflights, Fossum has now logged 194 days in space, Volkov, who has completed two long-duration stints aboard the space station has spent 366 days in orbit. Furukawa, who completed his first spaceflight, logged 167 days in space.

Fossum was commander of the space station's Expedition 29 mission. Before returning home, he passed the post on to NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, who will act as commander of the new Expedition 30 for the duration of his stay.

"It was very poignant and very rewarding to watch our friends and colleagues, and teachers these last couple of days, get on their way to their families and home," Burbank radioed to Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday. "I guess we'll have to wait a couple of months before we have the chance to see them again."

Snowy landing for Soyuz spacecraft

Burbank arrived at the station on Nov. 16 with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin. The trio will live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory until March.

Last week, Fossum gave Burbank some advice for his time in orbit.

"My advice for Dan is, enjoy every bit of every day," Fossum said. "Anytime you think that you're getting a little bit frustrated, get a grip, because you're in the most amazing place imaginable, working in the world's premier laboratory in orbit 240 miles above the Earth. This is an amazing place. What a great experience it is — every bit of it."

Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov are the last space station crew members to have been present at the station during a visiting space shuttle mission. The spacefliers played host to the crew of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis during its STS-135 mission — the last-ever flight of the space shuttle fleet. The agency retired its 30-year shuttle program immediately following Atlantis' STS-135 mission in July.

"Expedition 29 has been a very interesting time," Fossum said in a ceremony on Sunday to hand command of the station to Burbank. "We were here to be part of the historic, last space shuttle mission. It was then our task to transition from a focus on assembly operations to full scientific utilization."

During their time in orbit, Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov conducted a variety of scientific experiments and Earth observation. Fossum also conducted a spacewalk in July during the shuttle Atlantis' visit.

In the change-of-command ceremony, Fossum also thanked the ground teams and mission planners for their support.

"We are the fortunate ones living in space, with the great view," he said. "In truth, we merely serve as the hands and eyes of a huge team with the real brains, passion, persistence and patience. We did work hard, but our success is really a tribute to the mission teams on the ground who developed the plans to make it all happen."

You can follow Space.com staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow Space.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

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.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

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