May 14, 2013 at 8:01 PM ET
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a crew of three space travelers successfully touched down on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan on Tuesday, wrapping up a five-month mission to the International Space Station.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko landed in their Soyuz capsule at about 8:31 a.m. Kazakh time (10:31 p.m. ET Monday).
"It's beautiful," Romanenko radioed right before landing. "It's morning here." [Astronaut Chris Hadfield's 8 Most Amazing Space Moments]
After the landing, all three had smiles on their faces. "That was quite a ride home," Hadfield said.
The trio's return marks the end of the station's Expedition 35, which Hadfield commanded, and the start of Expedition 36. The landing comes just two days after Marshburn and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy performed an unprecedented emergency spacewalk to fix a serious ammonia coolant leak on the outside of the station.
The three spacefliers orbited Earth 2,300 times and logged 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) during their 144 days on the station. Romanenko, Hadfield and Marshburn also witnessed the arrival and departure of a few unmanned cargo ships, including SpaceX's Dragon capsule in March.
Hadfield was the first Canadian commander of the space station, and he shared his unique perspective on the planet with everyone back on Earth during his time on the orbiting outpost. The astronaut beamed back a series of videos about life in space, including a music video cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," sung as a goodbye to his space-based home.
Hadfield sent down his last photo from onboard the $100 billion laboratory on Monday. "Spaceflight finale: To some this may look like a sunset," Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) wrote on Twitter. "But it's a new dawn."
The departing Soyuz left behind three other astronauts to watch over the space station, but they won't be alone for long. Cassidy, Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin will be joined by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, NASA's Karen Nyberg and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin when they fly up to the station at the end of the month.
NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle the space agency's astronauts to and from the space station since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. NASA officials eventually hope to use private spaceships to bring people to and from the orbiting laboratory.
The International Space Station is the size of a five-bedroom house and was constructed by five different space agencies representing 15 different countries. Construction began in 1998, and since 2000 the station has been occupied continuously by crews of cosmonauts and astronauts.
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© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.