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166 days later: Space Station astronauts return to Earth

ISS shift change goes off without a hitch

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Three 'nauts have landed safely and on time in Kazakhstan despite bad weather on the ground, ending their Christmas stint on the International Space Station.

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One NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts touched down in the wee hours of the morning on the snowy steppes of central Kazakhstan on schedule, despite fog and low visibility in the country that threatened to delay the Soyuz capsule's landing.

Because of the severe weather, the returning spacemen were not given their usual medical tests in a tent at the landing site, getting just a quick check-up before being flown out of the single-digit Fahrenheit temperatures by helicopters to the local town of Karaganda.

Commander Oleg Kotov and Expedition 38 flight engineers Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy took to the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft after five-and-a-half months aboard the station, undocking from the Poisk module just over three hours before they landed.

The mission was Kotov's third, bringing his days in space to 526 and the first for both Hopkins and Ryazanskiy. Both flight engineers got to take a stroll outside, with Hopkins spending nearly 13 hours out and about in two US spacewalks and Ryazanskiy taking the air for just over 20 hours in three Russian spacewalks.

Onboard the ISS, Expedition 39 has kicked off with the first ever station commander from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Koichi Wakata and flight engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin. The three 'nauts have been on the station since their arrival in early November and are scheduled to stay until mid-May.

They are due to be joined by new crew members Steve Swanson, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev in a couple of weeks, after the three 'nauts blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on 25 March. ®

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