CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American, Russian and Japanese astronaut concluded a five month working voyage aboard the International Space Station with the dynamic touchdown of their Soyuz taxi Friday upon the snowy steep of Kazakhstan.
Blowing snow flurries and overcast skies greeted the returning Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft as it landed with a thud in thick snow cover at about 8:12 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. local time) nearly 80 miles northeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Heavy winds then took hold of the craft's parachutes and toppled the Soyuz over dragging it a short way.
The crew's return was not telecast live as normal due to the inclement night time weather. Confirmation of the official landing time and exact location was delayed nearly eight minutes from the isolated site.
"They arrived in space like baby birds barely able to fly, and now they soar home as eagles," Space Station Commander Scott Kelly stated via Twitter following the crew's departure. "Great job Kjell and Kimiya!"
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Kimiya Yui of Japan separated their Soyuz spacecraft from the orbiting laboratory, and performed an engine burn to begin their journey home. Undocking occurred on time at 4:49 a.m., 252 miles above eastern Russia.
The international trio left their home in space after 141 days and quickly maneuvered their Soyuz out to a distance of 12 km. Two hours later, the spacecraft separated a forward and aft module section and aligned to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.
As Russian and NASA recovery crews helped unload the three crew members in the dark frigid weather, three nearby Russian helicopters welcomed one crew member each with a fourth to carry space officials. Friday's landing was only the first nighttime landing the the Soyuz ferry flights from the orbital outpost in space.
At the time of undocking, Kelly and Flight Engineers Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko began Expedition 46 and will be joined next week by a newly launched crew. Their spacecraft will be rolled out to its launch complex on Sunday in preparation for launch.
A new international crew of three will travel to the space station on Tuesday to begin a nearly six month voyage upon the ocean of space. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Britian's Tim Peake and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko are poised to lift-off a record four days following a previous crews return at 6:03 a.m., and dock six hours later.