The Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft carrying three crewmembers of the International Space Station (ISS) landed safely in Kazakhstan on Tuesday morning, Russia’s Mission Control said.
The landing capsule carrying Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA astronaut Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa touched down at about 06.26 a.m. Moscow time (02:26 GMT) close to a designated area.
"The condition of the crew after the decent and the landing is normal. They are in high spirits," a spokesman for a special rescue team reported after the hatch was opened and the astronauts were helped out of the landing capsule.
After a preliminary medical check-up at a mobile hospital, the ISS crewmembers will be transported by a helicopter to Karaganda, to be later flown to Moscow.
Soyuz TMA-02M undocked from the ISS earlier on Tuesday. Volkov, Fossum and Furukawa have worked on board the orbital station as part of Expedition 29 since July.
Their return was originally set for November 16, but the failed launch of a Progress space freighter on August 24 forced the rescheduling.
The three crewmembers remaining on board the ISS – Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, and NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank – arrived at the orbital station on November 16 as part of Expedition 30.
They will stay on board the station for 124 days, performing a spacewalk and conducting 37 scientific experiments.
The next launch of a piloted Soyuz spacecraft with three new crewmembers to the ISS is scheduled for December 21.
Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft have taken the bulk of crew rotation and cargo missions to the ISS after NASA stopped launching its shuttles earlier this year. Under a contract between Russian space agency Roscosmos and NASA, signed on March 14, Soyuz spacecraft will take at least 12 U.S. astronauts to the ISS and back until 2016.