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Trio of 'nauts plonk down after six-month space station stint

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Vid Three International Space Station crew members have returned to Earth after more than six months aboard the orbiting platform.

A Soyuz TMA-03M carrying Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA's Don Pettit and the European Space Agency's Andre Kuipers touched down in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 0814 GMT on Sunday.

The three 'nauts logged 193 days in space of which 191 were aboard the station. During that time history was made when the first commercial cargoship, the Dragon from upstart startup SpaceX, docked with the ISS at the end of May.

Flight Engineer Pettit was the one operating the robotic arm Canadarm that plucked the approaching craft from the heavens, allowing him to utter a cheesy line about catching a dragon by the tail. It was his third spaceflight: he served a five-month stint on the station as part of Expedition 6 and visited the station in 2008 on space shuttle Endeavour.

It was Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko's second time in space, having previously served on the ISS as a flight engineer for Expedition 17, and also Kuipers' second time although this was his first long-duration stay.

Now that the three crew members are back home, Expedition 32 has started on the ISS and command passed to Russia's Gennady Padalka, who is accompanied by flight engineers Sergei Revin and NASA's Joe Acaba.

They are due to be joined by NASA 'naut Sunita Williams, Japan's Aki Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko on 17 July after a three-day trek into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. ®

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