Houston: After four months in orbit, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, along with two other cosmonauts, returned to Earth on Monday.
The record-breaking Indian-American along with Russian Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan at 8.56 pm EST (7.29 am IST).
The trio spent four months conducting research and exploration aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Before leaving the ISS onboard the Soyuz TMA-05M, Williams ceremonially handed over the command of the space station to fellow NASA astronaut Kevin Ford on the eve of her departure from the complex on Saturday. This exchange of command by Expedition Commander 33, Williams, will herald the beginning of Expedition 34.
"We have left the ship in good shape and am honoured to hand over to Kevin as we are going soon home and the ship is again in good hands," Williams said while handing over the command.
Their return wraps up 127 days in space since their launch from Kazakhstan on July 15 last, including 125 days spent aboard the station.
Ford and his crewmates, Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, will tend to the station as a three-man crew until the arrival of three additional Flight Engineers in December.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec 19 and dock to the station two days later for a five-month stay.
Hadfield will become the first Canadian to command the station when Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin depart in March, marking the start of Expedition 35.