HOUSTON — Three U.S., Russian and Japanese astronauts descended safely into Kazakhstan late Nov. 21, ending their 167-day Expedition 29 duties aboard the International Space Station.

The Soyuz 27 mission spacecraft carrying Mike Fossum, Sergey Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa landed under parachute on the frigid, snow-covered plains north of Arkalyk at 9:26 p.m. EST, in the predawn of Nov. 22 local time (8:26 a.m.).

Helicopter-borne recovery teams landed quickly and expedited the extraction of the three men in temperatures below 10F (-12C). The astronauts appeared weary but fine as they were transported from the landing zone to Kustanai for further evaluation, says NASA spokesman Josh Byerly, who was with the recovery team.

Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa served as commander and flight engineers, respectively, during a 5 1/2-month mission that hosted NASA’s final shuttle flight in July and marked the 11th anniversary of continuous station staffing on Nov. 2.

Russian space agency Roscosmos’s rapid recovery from the Aug. 24 failure of the cargo version of the Soyuz launcher, which is also used to transport multinational crews to the orbiting science lab, prevented their departure from marking the start of a temporary evacuation.

NASA’s Dan Burbank, who assumed command of the station with the Nov. 21 undocking of the Soyuz 27 crew, and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin eased the launcher concerns as they lifted off aboard the Soyuz 28 mission late on Nov. 13 and docked two days later.

Six-person station operations were cut in half in mid-September as part of the evacuation option. Sustained six-person operations are scheduled to resume with the Dec. 23 docking of the Soyuz 29 mission carrying Don Pettit of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency.

Fossum and Furukawa were bound from Kustanai, Kazakhstan, to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston aboard a space agency jet to begin a rehabilitation program after their long exposure to weightlessness. Volkov was headed for Star City, Russia.