September 17, 2012
A Russian Soyuz capsule landed on the Kazakh steppe on Monday, delivering a trio of astronauts from a four-month stint on the International Space Station.
The capsule, carrying U.S. astronaut Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, parachuted through a blue sky and touched down in a cloud of dust as its soft landing engines ignited at 8:53 local time (0253 GMT).
“Bull’s eye landing,” a NASA TV commentator said as the capsule lay on its side in the Kazakh steppe circled overhead by approaching search-and-recovery helicopters.
Veteran mission commander Padalka, who has logged 711 days in orbit to make him the world’s fourth most experienced astronaut, was the first out of the cramped descent capsule.
“I feel great,” said Padalka, wrapped in a blue blanket, sipping hot tea and smiling, enjoying the balmy steppe air under the early morning sunlight as medical personnel wiped sweat from his brow.
“This was my fourth flight, and so it is nothing of the extraordinary already,” he said, looking relaxed.
During his stay at the orbital station, Padalka conducted a six-hour spacewalk on Aug. 20 to relocate a crane, launch a small science satellite and install micrometeoroid shields on the space station’s Zvezda command module.
He and fellow crew members Acaba and Revin were carried over to autograph the Soyuz, scorched black by re-entry, to be displayed in a Russian provincial museum.
The crew returned after spending 123 days in orbit aboard the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex involving 15 countries and orbiting 240 miles (385 km) above Earth.