Sen—Three astronauts returned safely to Earth today after an extended stay of more than six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov landed in their Soyuz TMA-15M capsule in Kazakhstan at 13.44 UTC.
The three crew arrived at the ISS on Nov. 24, 2014 and spent 199 days in space. They had been due to return a month ago on May 12, but their departure was delayed while Russians investigated the cause of a strickenProgress cargo ship. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, recently concluded its investigation into the Progress M-27M failure and marked a return to spaceflight when a Soyuz-2-1a lifted off from Plesetsk with a military payload on June 5.
Before departing the station, Terry Virts handed over command of the orbiting laboratory to veteran space flyer Gennady Padalka. The undocking of the Soyuz officially marked the beginning of Expedition 44 aboard the ISS.
Remaining on board the orbiting outpost with Commander Padalka are NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, both of whom are spending a year in space.
Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko will be joined inJuly by Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.
The return home marks the end of Crisotoforetti's maiden spaceflight during which she became the first Italian women in space and also achieved the record of the longest duration mission for a female astronaut, surpassing the record of NASA astronaut Sunita Williams. Williams still holds the record for the most spacewalks by a female astronaut and the cumulative spacewalk time record for a female with 50 hours and 40 minutes.
Crisotoforetti's extended stay also means she now holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of an ESA astronaut, outlasting previous record holder André Kuipers who spent 193 days in space between December 2011 and July 2012.
The mission marks the end of Terry Virts' second time in space, having previously been part of the space shuttle's STS-130 crew.
It was also the second time in space for Anton Shkaplerov, whose first flight was aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 back in November 2011.
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