U. S., Russian Space Station Crew Members Descend to Earth After 5 ½ Months in Orbit

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A three-man U.S. and Russian crew ended a successful 5 1/2 month expedition to the International Space Station late Tuesday, descending to a landing in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft.

Weary but in good shape, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Expedition 36 ISS commander Pavel Vinogradov and fellow cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin were assisted from their capsule within minutes of touching down under parachute at 10:58 p.m., EDT, or Wednesday at 8:58 a.m., local time, by helicopter-borne Russian recovery teams.

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Soyuz TMA-08M descends under parachute 10 minutes before touching down. Photo Credit: NASA and Roscosmos

Mostly sunny skies greeted the fliers as they landed in Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkagan.

After field medical checks, the three men were to be flown by individual helicopters to Karaganda. There, they will separate, with Cassidy boarding a NASA jet transport with other members of the U.S. space agency for Houston, Tex. Vinogradov and Misurkin will be flown by Russian transport to Star City near Moscow.

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Recovery team assists NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, center obscurred, and Expedition 36 commander Pavel Vinogradov, right.  Photo Credit: NASA Roscosmos

The Soyuz capsule carrying the three men undocked from the ISS Russian segment Poisk docking module at 7:35 p.m., EDT, following 166 days in orbit.

Their four hour, 46-minute deorbit maneuver followed at 10:05 p.m., EDT.

"We are thinking about coffee and apples," one of the fliers informed Russia's Mission Control before the capsule experienced several minutes of anticipated spotty communications.

The TMA-08M crew bid farewell to Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, who assumed command from Vinogradov, NASA's Karen Nyberg and the European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano. They comprise the first members of ISS Expedition 37.

The orbiting science laboratory is scheduled to return to full strength on Sept. 25, when NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy are scheduled to arrive following a same-day launch and docking aboard their Soyuz TMA-010M spacecraft.

During Expedition 36, Cassidy Vinogradov, Misurkin worked with more than 140 science experiments, participated in three spacewalks and greeted unpiloted cargo capsules from Japan, Russia and Europe.

The spacewalks helped to prepare the station's exterior for the future arrival of Russia's Multipurpose Laboratory Module.

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