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US and Russian astronauts make a picture-perfect landing in Kazakhstan

Two Russian astronauts and one American returned to Earth this morning, Sept. 7, with a spectacular landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Station commander Jeff Williams from the United States, and flight engineers Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Russia, had been on the International Space Station for 172 days, Reuters reports. They returned on the Soyuz TMA-20M space craft.

The three astronauts seen in the spacecraft shortly after landing. (AP/NASA/Maxim Shipenkov)

The Soyuz is a Russian commuter vehicle between the ISS and Earth: It has a rocket that launches people and supplies into space, and brings them back in a parachute-equipped capsule. According to NASA’s description, the return trip usually takes just under 3.5 hours and lands in a designated area near the town of Zhezkazgan, in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft capsule carrying International Space Station (ISS) crew descends beneath a parachute near the town of Zhezkazgan (Dzhezkazgan), Kazakhstan
Nice view during the morning commute, near Zhezkazgan (Dzhezkazgan), Kazakhstan. (Reuters/NASA/Maxim Shipenkov)
Landing soon. (AP/NASA/Bill Inglis)
Touch down. (AP/NASA/Maxim Shipenkov)
Search and rescue team approaches the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft capsule after its landing near the town of Zhezkazgan (Dzhezkazgan), Kazakhstan
View of the landing ground with search and rescue helicopters standing by. (Reuters/NASA/Bill Ingalis)
A triumphant return. (AP/NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Meanwhile, the International Space Station gives us a glimpse of the incredible view from the astronauts’ former home in space:

Jeff Williams, 58, set the US record for spending the most time in space, with a total of 534 days in orbit. He tweeted yesterday that he’d miss space, before boarding the Soyuz toward home:

Another crew will replace the returnees, and will be launched on Sept. 23 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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