A Russian Soyuz capsule landed on the Kazakh steppe on Monday, safely delivering a trio of astronauts from a four-month stint aboard the International Space Station.
The Soyuz TMA-05M capsule, carrying Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams, parachuted through dark, cloudy skies and touched down at 7:56 a.m. local time.
The capsule blazed a red plasma trail across the dark sky after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. It landed on its side on the snow-covered steppe 83 kilometers northeast of the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan.
The astronauts were extracted quickly from the capsule and wrapped in blue thermal blankets. All three smiled and appeared relaxed as they chatted with the search-and-recovery team, NASA TV footage showed.
"Fresh air — very good!" Williams said, in Russian. The landing, after a three-and-a-half-hour descent from the orbital outpost, was the first pre-dawn touchdown since 2006.
The Expedition 33 crew had spent 125 days aboard the International Space Station.
The crew conducted a number of experiments, including tests on radiation levels at the space station and research into the effects of melting glaciers and seasonal changes on Earth's ecosystems, NASA said in a statement.