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Three spacefliers wrapped up five and a half months of duty on the International Space Station on Sunday and descended to a safe landing on the frozen steppes of Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz capsule.
The Soyuz craft made a parachute landing northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk at 10:58 p.m. ET (9:58 a.m. local time Monday).
"It’s been an honor and a privilege to spend 165 days up here. With that said, I’m looking forward to heading home," NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman said during a change-of-command ceremony in advance of the trip back to Earth. Joining Wiseman were the outgoing station commander, Russia's Maxim Suraev, and German astronaut Alexander Gerst.
"It’s not easy to part from the station," the crew members radioed to Russian flight controllers as the Soyuz slipped away from its berthing port, according to a translator.
Three crew members were left aboard the station: NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore, the station's new commander; and Russian cosmonauts Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev. Those three arrived at the station six weeks ago.
Three more spacefliers — Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry Virts and Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti — are scheduled to be launched to the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 23.