Search and rescue helicopters are seen before a flight to the landing area of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule with the International Space Station (ISS) crew onboard during sunrise in the town of Zhezkazgan, formerly known as Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

3 astronauts return from International Space Station

The trio has spent 197 days in space.

Three astronauts returned to Earth Thursday after more than six months aboard the International Space Station.

A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA’s Serena Aunon-Chancellor, Russian Sergey Prokopyev and German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency landed on the snow-covered steppes in Kazakhstan, about 140 kilometres (87 miles) southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan. They touched down a minute ahead of schedule at 11:02 a.m. local time (0502 GMT; 12:02 a.m. EST).

The crew radioed that they were feeling fine. Russian rescue teams in helicopters and all-terrain vehicles rushed to the landing site to extract the astronauts from the capsule charred by a fiery ride through atmosphere.

The trio has spent 197 days in space. It was the first mission for Aunon-Chancellor and Prokopyev, while Gerst flew his second to a total of 362 days in orbit, setting the ESA’s flight duration record.

The rescue crews helped the crew in their balky space suits leave the capsule and conducted an initial medical examination. The astronauts will be taken to Dzhezkazgan for a brief welcome ceremony before being flown to their respective countries for more thorough check-ups.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, who have arrived at the station earlier this month, are set to remain in orbit until June.

Read more: Canadian astronaut lifts off on Russian rocket to International Space Station

Read more: NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon as first step in deep space exploration

The Associated Press

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