NASA, Russian Astronauts Touch Down Safely in Kazakhstan

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From the International Space Station to the snowy stretches of central Kazakhstan, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts have safely returned to earth.

The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Kelly and Russians Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri touched down today (March 16), a few minutes before 0800 GMT, bringing to close a five-month sojourn on the ISS.

“There has been a soft landing… The capsule is on earth,” said a Russian Mission Control announcer to applause, reports Reuters.

In an AP shot of the landing, the tiny Soyuz rests on a wintry steppe about 30 miles from northern Kazakh city Arkalyk, parachute still deployed in a rising cone, the chute’s top a bullseye pattern of concentric red circles–surely one for the picture books.

Also one for U.S. safety wonks, who’ve watched the mission closely as NASA prepares to wind up its shuttle program, and responsibility for travel to the ISS shifts to Russia.

Kelly’s return comes just weeks before identical twin brother and fellow astronaut Mark–spouse of gravely injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords–is due to lead the final planned flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour in mid-April. The Kelly brothers are the only twins and siblings to have both traveled in space.

Scott Kelly arrived on the ISS on October 9, 2010 and served as a flight engineer, taking over command of the station on November 25, 2010. His departure with Russian cosmonauts Kaleri and Skripochka leaves the ISS helmed by Italian Paolo Nespoli and American Catherine Coleman.

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