New Delhi: Rounding off a mission of more than five months aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the Expedition 54 trio returned to Earth on Wednesday.
The crew, comprising of Alexander Misurkin of Russia`s Roscosmos space agency and NASA`s Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, touched down on steppe land southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan at the expected time of 0231 GMT.
Misurkin, 40, took charge of the Soyuz descent module carrying the trio down to Earth and has spent a total of 334 days in space over two flights.
Acaba, 50, is completing his third mission having racked up some 10 months in orbit, while 51-year-old colleague Vande Hei made his debut in space.
The two NASA astronauts were active on Twitter while aboard the ISS, while Misurkin eschewed the micro-blogging platform.
Puerto Rican native Acaba on Sunday tweeted a photo of his hands framing the Earth as viewed from the ISS`s famous "Cupola" observation module.
— Joseph M. Acaba (@AstroAcaba) February 25, 2018
"The future of our home is in all of our hands. May we all care for #Earth and practice good stewardship," he wrote.
Just before they left for Earth, Acaba tweeted another image of his last sunrise in space just over his hometown, Puerto Rico.
— Joseph M. Acaba (@AstroAcaba) February 27, 2018
"Sunrise over #PuertoRico on my last day before heading home. What a beautiful sight," he wrote.
Ex-military man Vande Hei shared his love of sports, taking in both the American football Superbowl and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics while aboard the orbital lab.
Before their descent to Earth, Misurkin handed over command of the ISS to compatriot Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos on Tuesday.
The Expedition 55 crew – comprising Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, NASA's Scott Tingle and JAXA's Norishige Kanai – continues to operate the station and will wait for the next three-member crew to board the orbiting laboratory in March.
NASA stopped its own manned launches to the ISS in 2011 but recently moved to increase its crew complement aboard the ISS as the Russians cut theirs in a cost-saving measure announced last year.
Roscosmos will replenish its crew once a new, multi-purpose space module called Nauka docks at the ISS, but the launch of the module has been delayed several times and is now not expected to take place before 2019.
The ISS laboratory, a rare example of American and Russian international cooperation, has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.
(With AFP inputs)