A U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have returned safely to Earth, touching down in freezing fog in Kazakhstan, after a 167-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Expedition 42 crew members Barry Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of Roscosmos landed in Kazakhstan Wednesday night, the U.S. space agency reported.
The trio returned from the ISS in a Russian Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft, which reentered Earth's atmosphere and descended to ground level with the assistance of parachutes. Around 300 service personnel, 14 helicopters, two aircraft and six cross-country vehicles, were on-hand to assist in the spacecraft's recovery, Russia's Sputnik News reported.
There was drama during the spacecraft's descent, as communications with the craft were intermittently lost during the landing, delaying confirmation of the touchdown, and the crew ceased receiving information on their altitude.
The landing ultimately went smoothly. Images shared on social media by NASA showed the recovery crews arriving at the Soyuz' landing site and assisting the crew in exiting the spacecraft.
â€” NASA (@NASA) March 12, 2015
â€” Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 12, 2015
The crew's 167 days in space saw them cover a distance of over 71 million miles, and saw NASA astronaut Wilmore involved in three major spacewalks, during which the crew carried out work to prepare the station for the arrival of future cargo and crew vehicles, according to NASA Spaceflight.
These vehicles include U.S. commercial spaceflight company SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft, which are scheduled to begin arriving at the space station between 2016 and 2017.
The primary crew of Expedition 43, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, and U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly are preparing for their mission, slated to launch later this month, which will see Kelly and Kornienko spend a full year in space.
NASA has been purchasing flights on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, while SpaceX and Boeing develop the next generation of U.S. spacecraft.
Doug Wheelock, an astronaut who traveled in both the Discovery Space Shuttle and the Soyuz, told ABC News that the two experiences are notably different.
"It's incredibly bumpy and hot and cramped," Wheelock said. "It's kind of like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel but the barrel is on fire."
The U.S. space shuttle, though a source of immense national pride, was criticized for having many serious design flaws, which contributed to the loss of both the Challenger shuttle in 1986, and the Colombia shuttle in 2003.