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.
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Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers made up half of the station's Expedition 31 crew. During their stay at the orbiting laboratory, the spaceflyers rolled out the welcome mat for the first commercial spacecraft to visit the station.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Aboard the International Space Station
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SpaceX's unmanned Dragon capsule was launched to the International Space Station on a test flight to demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to carry cargo to and from low-Earth orbit. As Dragon approached the station, Pettit and Kuipers used the outpost's robotic arm to pluck it from space and manually park it to the complex.
The successful test flight lays the groundwork for NASA to use commercial spaceships to ferry cargo, and one day astronauts, to the space station. SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion contract with the agency for 12 unmanned cargo delivery flights.
Sunday's Soyuz landing placed Pettit fourth in the ranks of most experienced American astronauts. He now has a total of 370 days in space during his three missions, two of them as part of a space station crew. Kononenko ended the flight with 392 days, a total that he accrued during two separate long-duration stints aboard the station. Kuipers ended the mission with 204 days of career spaceflight time.
Kononenko served as commander of Expedition 31 during his stay, but passed the torch to fellow Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka in an official change-of-command ceremony Saturday (June 30).
The departure of Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers leaves only three residents to currently occupy the space station until three new crewmembers launch to the complex on July 14. Padalka, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Revin will remain aboard the orbiting outpost until September.
Russian space station flight controllers radioed Padalka and his Expedition 32 crew after today's landing to let the spaceflyers know their comrades were safely back on Earth and in good health.
"Good to hear," Padalka radioed back. "Another mission completed."
- Photos: Space Station's Expedition 31 Mission
- Stunning Photos: Earth from Space by Astronaut André Kuipers
- Photos: Exquisite Star Trails Captured by Astronaut Don Pettit
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