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After six months in orbit, space station astronauts land safely in Kazakhstan (+video)

The team of Russian, Dutch, and American astronauts touched down in a Soyuz space capsule.

By Denise / July 2, 2012

Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia (top), Dutch astronaut Andrew Kuipers (center) and NASA astronaut Don Pettit bid farewell to their crewmates on the International Space Station just before shutting the hatches between their Soyuz capsule and the station before returning to Earth.



After half a year living on the International Space Station, three astronauts safely returned to Earth Sunday (July 1) aboard a Russian-built space capsule.

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The Soyuz space capsule lands safely in Kazakhstan after carrying its three-person crew back from the International Space Station. Travis Brecher reports.

The Soyuz spacecraft landed on Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan at 4:14 a.m. EDT (0414 GMT) to return NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers back to their home planet.

"Everything is good, we feel great," Kononenko radioed Russia's Mission Control Center just before landing. 

The spaceflyers had undocked from the space station several hours earlier in their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft to begin the journey home. They landed upright under a blue sky dotted with some white clouds in Kazakhstan, where the local time was Sunday afternoon.

Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers arrived at the orbiting outpost in December 2011. All three had flown previous missions to the space station, making them a crew of veteran spaceflyers.

In a blog post describing his final day in space, Pettit reflected on the impact of his months-long mission, and encouraged humanity to keep pushing the boundaries of space exploration.

"On Earth, the frontiers opened slowly," Pettit wrote. "The technology of sailing was known and advanced for over a thousand years before the Earth was circumnavigated. Such bold acts require the technology, the will, and the audacity to explore. Sometimes you have one, but not the others. I only hope that my small efforts here, perhaps adding one grain of sand to the beach of knowledge, will help enable a generation of people in the future to call space 'home.'" [Landing Photos: Soyuz Capsule Returns 3 Astronauts Home]

Throughout their mission, Pettit and Kuipers shared with the public stunning photos of the Earth from space through Twitter and the photo sharing flight Flickr. Pettit also regularly updated a blog about his experiences on the space station, which included several poems in tribute to life in space.

Pettit also kept a journal as a fun way to document his scientific activities on the orbiting outpost. For instance, Pettit wrote blog updates in the voice of a zucchini plant when he experimented with growing different kinds of plants in microgravity.

On Friday (June 29), Pettit wrote a poem called "Last Day in Space," to reflect on the memories of the mission, the experiences that moved him, and his anticipation over seeing his wife and children again soon.

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